Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, carries the first box of petitions as supporters of Yes on 802, the campaign to put a Medicaid expansion state question on the ballot, deliver petitions to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office Oct. 24, 2019. Nate Billings/The Oklahoman file

After a long delay, Gov. Kevin Stitt has scheduled a statewide vote on State Question 802 for June 30.

If passed, the measure would add a requirement to the state Constitution mandating that it offer Medicaid coverage to qualifying working age people in Oklahoma no later than July 1, 2021.

The state has the second highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation. Medicaid expansion would cover an estimated 200,000 people in the state, perhaps more if the slumping economy increases the number of Oklahomans living in poverty.

The federal government would pay 90% of the cost of newly eligible Medicaid clients. Pre-coronavirus estimates put that at about $1 billion a year for the federal government.

Some studies have suggested that the state’s share of the cost could be more than matched by cost savings that expansion would bring to other state agencies and increased tax revenue produced by the huge federal investment in the state.

Even if that doesn’t prove true, the state can afford expansion. What it can’t afford is waiting any longer.

Medicaid expansion would give the state a stronger workforce, a more financially secure rural health care system and a healthier population.

Medicaid expansion has so much going for it that Stitt — who opposes SQ 802 — wants to do it starting July 1, if he can get the Oklahoma Legislature to fund his plan. In a confusing proposal, Stitt wants the state to expand Medicaid fully, but then shrink it — after federal officials sign off on his ideas — by charging premiums and copays while risking the program’s financial stability through an untested block grant funding system. That’s a combination of ideas that have been found illegal elsewhere, proven not to produce significant revenue or have never been tested in court. None of them make sense to us.

Thirty-six other states have accepted Medicaid expansion funding. It’s time for Oklahoma to stop refusing a huge investment in our people, our hospitals and our economy.

We endorse SQ 802, and think the people will see it is the better route to a healthier state.

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