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Oklahoma lawmakers to study health care amid efforts to expand Medicaid

 The Journal Record | July 29, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY – A “working group” of lawmakers has been formed to study health care in Oklahoma, and signature collection is set to begin this week on an initiative petition to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

On Monday, House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat announced that a select group of lawmakers, including 14 Republicans and four Democrats, will join with Oklahoma Deputy Secretary of Health Carter Kimble and Samantha Davidson, policy director in the office of Gov. Kevin Stitt, to develop an “Oklahoma solution” for increasing access to health care and providing insurance coverage for more Oklahomans.

“Health care is a very complex issue, and there is no cookie-cutter approach that is going to drive down costs, improve care and increase access. It is going to take a comprehensive, multifaceted approach that considers not just what is wrong with the system but also what is working, and also what has worked and not worked in other states,” McCall said. “We need to bring everyone together – patients, providers, policy experts, insurance carriers, facilities and state agencies – and find a way forward. That discussion must include everything, not just Medicaid expansion, and it will need to continue until we have a solution that works for our citizens’ unique needs.”

The working group will likely meet on a weekly basis beginning in August, the lawmakers said.

At the same time, a group called Oklahomans Decide Healthcare, which has advocated for tapping a major increase in federal funding by expanding the state’s SoonerCare Medicaid program, will be driving to collect enough signatures to force an initiative petition vote on the issue. If at least 178,000 signatures – amounting to 15% of the total number of votes cast in the last election for governor – are collected before Oct. 28, Oklahomans will get the chance to decide the issue for themselves. Petition organizers hope ultimately to add a new article to the Oklahoma Constitution expanding Medicaid to include low-income adults who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s $21,595 per year for a single person or $34,248 for a family of four.

Media representative Amber England said Oklahomans Decide Healthcare organizers are confident they’ll gather enough signatures.

“We’ve been building a volunteer infrastructure and have a strong network across the state,” she said.

Beginning this week, volunteers will be walking neighborhoods, planning “days of action” in towns across the state, setting up tables at community festivals and ballgames and otherwise meeting people. Social media will be used to keep Oklahomans informed about opportunities to sign the initiative petition.

“We’ll be wherever people are,” England said.

She said efforts will be made especially to reach out to Oklahomans in rural areas, where hospitals have been stressed financially after providing care for people who don’t have health insurance.

“It’s a high bar we have to meet, 178,000 signatures in 90 days, but we feel confident we’ll reach that number,” she said. “We certainly aren’t going to leave anything to chance.”

England said initiative petition supporters will be watching to see how the working group of lawmakers progresses in their work, and would offer input if asked.

According to Oklahomans Decide Healthcare, if Oklahoma opts to expand Medicaid to include more people, it would unlock more than $1 billion in federal funding, including money currently being paid in taxes by Oklahomans channeled to other states to support their expanded programs. Opponents of Medicaid expansion argue that Oklahoma can’t commit hundreds of millions of additional dollars to the program when there’s a chance federal funding may falter.

“Health care is an important topic nationally and locally,” Treat said. “I’m confident this group will take a serious look at the issue and give useful recommendations for the Legislature to consider as we work to improve Oklahomans’ access to quality, affordable health care.”

Stitt said he believes the working group will take into account wide-ranging views of Oklahomans on the important issue.

“I appreciate the strong relationship between the Legislature and the executive branch to achieve a health care plan that strengthens the delivery of state services and improves health outcomes in our state,” the governor said. “This partnership in the Capitol is vital to ensure we are taking into consideration all 4 million Oklahomans as we work to deliver a top-10 state.”

Lawmakers appointed to the working group include: state Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, co-chair; state Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, co-chair; state Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford; state Rep. Marilyn Stark, R-Bethany; state Rep. Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay; state Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa; state Rep. Carl Newton, R-Cherokee; state Rep. T.J. Marti, R-Broken Arrow; state Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater; state Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City; state Sen. Kim David, R-Porter; state Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud; state Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa; state Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore; state Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City; state Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow; state Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City; and state Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City.

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