SQ 802: Oklahoma voters approve Medicaid expansion

Carmen Forman, Gannett Oklahoma
The Oklahoman

Oklahoma voters narrowly approved a state question to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income residents.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday, State Question 802, which asked voters to expand Medicaid, passed by 6,488 votes.

The question will enshrine Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma’s constitution — effectively preventing Oklahoma’s GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican governor from limiting or undoing the expansion.

Yes on 802 campaign manager Amber England said today is a day the campaign's volunteers and supporters have wanted for years.

"Our volunteers have persevered through so much," she said. "They’ve waited almost a decade for this moment and today is really about Oklahomans who had the courage to do something that politicians just wouldn’t do."

The campaign for SQ 802 was launched after years of legislative inaction on Medicaid expansion. The Yes on 802 campaign turned in a record number of signatures to qualify the question for the ballot.

But the majority of Oklahoma's counties opposed the expansion Tuesday. A mere seven of the state's 77 counties, including Oklahoma and Tulsa, approved the question.

John Tidwell, State Director of Americans for Prosperity and Chairman of the Vote No on 802 Association, said the lack of widespread support for the question is telling.

"Results are clear: a plan that claims to ‘save rural health care’ was overwhelming rejected by rural communities across Oklahoma," he said in a statement. "Voters in more than 90% of Oklahoma counties voted against SQ802."

Oklahoma will have to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act by July 1, 2021. The federal government will cover 90% of the costs, with the state covering the remaining 10%.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority estimates Oklahoma’s share of Medicaid expansion would amount to about $164 million annually to cover roughly 200,000 additional Medicaid recipients. State health officials have noted costs could rise due to skyrocketing unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state spends about $6 billion annually on its current Medicaid program, which covers about 800,000 Oklahomans.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, perhaps one of the most outspoken critics of the state question, said expanding Medicaid is not practical because of the costs to the state. Stitt has said Oklahoma may already be facing a $1 billion budget deficit in fiscal year 2022.

As for how the state pays for Medicaid expansion, Stitt said the state legislators will have a difficult time finding the money.

“You either pay for that by reducing roads and bridge funding, education funding, public safety funding or you raise taxes," he said. "As your governor, I’m not raising taxes.”

But earlier this year, Stitt vetoed the funding mechanism for his plan to expand Medicaid. The funding did not necessitate a tax increase or cuts to state agencies.

"I think the governor doesn’t have a very good memory," England said. "He just had an agreement with the Hospital Association and the Legislature to fund it this year without raising taxes. What’s wasteful is leaving $1 billion on the table every single year that we could have been bringing home to invest in our communities and providing health care to our folks.

Edmond voter Christine McIntyre said she voted for SQ 802 because of her son's difficulties in getting health care.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” she said. “Part of me would vote ‘No,’ but I have an adult son that makes borderline poverty that doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, and he doesn’t have health insurance, and because he doesn’t have health insurance, it affects his family, and upsets me. So I voted for it even though personally I probably wouldn’t have. I don’t know how I would say ‘no.’”

With the passage of SQ 802, Oklahoma will join 36 other states that have expanded Medicaid.

In Pottawatomie County, 52.82 percent of the voters rejected the measure. 

In total, 674,040 Oklahoma voters cast a ballot on SQ 802.