OKLAHOMA CITY — Hundreds of people supporting expansion of health care coverage rallied Wednesday at the state Capitol.
“You have the power to make this happen,” said former lawmaker Angela Monson. “It is not going to happen without you.”
Supporters want lawmakers to accept federal dollars to provide health care coverage to more people.
Supporters of Medicaid expansion have also filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office indicating they will circulate an initiative petition to get the issue on the ballot.
“This is the year,” Monson said. “We need it now.”
Supporters carried signs that read, “Expand Coverage Now,” and “I rally for rural Oklahoma.” A number of rural hospitals have closed.
The rally was sponsored by Together OK and the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, told the crowd that lawmakers have been working on a plan for the last year and a half. He said most of the details are embargoed until “we get the support we need.”
“We have been working and we have been working hard,” he said. “I have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the plan that hopefully we will be able to unveil.”
He said that for a lot of Republicans, expanding benefits is a hard thing to do.
“It comes down to their voting base and about getting re-elected, just to be real honest,” he said.
But the Legislature has changed tremendously in the last year, he said.
“We can’t do nothing,” he said.
For the past seven years, Oklahoma has been among a dwindling number of states that refused to bring federal tax dollars home and expand coverage, said David Blatt, Oklahoma Policy Institute executive director.
The consequences have been devastating, he said. Oklahoma continues to have among the highest rates of uninsured in the nation, Blatt said. One in six adults don’t have coverage, he said.
Some 36 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded coverage and the benefits are huge, he said.
Expansion states have seen the biggest drop in their uninsured rates, Blatt said. Families in expansion states have more access to affordable care and more financial security, he said.
Expansion is good for the economy, he said. States that have expanded coverage have less uncompensated care costs, which can mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy, Blatt said.
“Every one of these 36 states knows that a nine-to-one federal match to expand health insurance coverage is a great deal that is in their state’s interest,” Blatt said. “The fact is, Oklahoma has waited far too long to get on board with expansion, but better late than never.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said that if Oklahoma does not expand coverage by 2022, the state will have lost out on $8.6 billion in federal funding.
“If we are going to operate Oklahoma like a business, a nine-to-one return on investment is a no-brainer,” Virgin said.
Scott Meador with the Tulsa Health Department explains what is done during mosquito season in Tulsa. Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World