State lawmakers formed a bipartisan working group this past week to look at ways they could expand access to health care and insurance coverage for those who did not fit neatly into one of the few categories where those are readily available.
We applaud the effort but must question the motive considering the move comes after nearly a decade of stubborn, partisan refusal to willingly do so. The decision also was announced just two days before petitioners began collecting the estimated 178,000 signatures needed to let voters decide whether to accept federal funds needed to expand the state's Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act.
Passage of State Question 802, should the requisite number of signatures be secured by the Oct. 28 deadline and it be placed on the ballot, would expand eligibility to low-income adults who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. It also would prohibit the state from imposing restrictions or requirements on those who enroll through this option that differ from those already enrolled in SoonerCare, the state's version of Medicaid.
Medicaid expansion would insure an additional 200,000 low-income Oklahomans and bring billions in federal health care dollars back home. Passage certainly would bolster health care in rural areas where hospitals and clinics closed due to decisions made by those who prioritized politics above people.
House Speaker Charles McCall said the working group will bring everyone together — patients, policy experts, providers, insurers, medical facilities and state officials — in an effort to find solutions. The goal, he said, is to develop 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.”
The goal is laudable, but we hope this delayed legislative response does not deter the efforts of those who waited patiently, but in vain, for lawmakers to act and are petitioning now to put SQ 802 on the ballot. Judging from past experience, it will be difficult to trust that Oklahoma's elected officials will act in the people's best interest when it comes to creating a health care system that is accessible and affordable for all.