The Tulsa Regional Chamber and area hospital leaders announced their support Thursday for State Question 802, a measure which if approved by voters Tuesday would give expanded Medicaid health coverage to working poor adults and help secure financially strapped health providers.
Chamber officials and leaders from three of northeast Oklahoma’s largest hospital systems spoke in favor of the measure during a press conference held at the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s downtown office.
“Business leaders in Tulsa agree that Medicaid expansion … is of critical importance to our future,” said Tulsa Regional Chamber Chairman Roger Ramseyer, vice president and Tulsa market leader for Cox Communications.
“It is imperative because Medicaid expansion will allow for the insurance coverage of an additional 200,000 Oklahomans,” Ramseyer said. “That is something that we all need for the economic prosperity of our state to continue to be enhanced.”
Speaking in support of the measure were Kevin Gross, chief executive officer of Hillcrest HealthCare System; Jeff Nowlin, chief executive officer of Ascension St. John; and Barry Steichen, Saint Francis Health System executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Proponents say the measure, if approved, would bring in more than $1 billion in federal funding annually that otherwise would go to other states that have already expanded Medicaid coverage.
The Affordable Care Act, since 2014, provides states the authority to expand Medicaid eligibility to the working poor with incomes at or below 133% of the poverty line.
But opponents of the measure, including Gov. Kevin Stitt, say the state cannot afford the required 10% state share of program costs.
Stitt placed the state question on the Tuesday primary after proponents successfully gathered 313,000 signatures, or 135,000 more than needed, to land the issue on a ballot.
Healthcare providers, meanwhile, see the measure as a way for health providers to recoup revenue lost through uncompensated care and provide access to health care that workers otherwise might not be able to afford.
Specifically, SQ 802 would expand Medicaid eligibility to individuals and families whose income is at or below 133% of the federal poverty line. For example, a family of four making less than $35,535 annually would qualify for the new benefit under 2019 qualification requirements, if approved by voters.
Gross remarked on how the move here to expand Medicaid began 10 years ago. During that period, 36 other states have expanded Medicaid, he said.
“So they figured out how to do it, while Oklahoma has not,” said Gross, who then described how the measure came to be via initiative petition.
In addition to the $1 billion in federal funds the program is estimated to bring annually, Gross said the expansion would create 17,000 new jobs.
“It all comes down now to the vote on Tuesday, so we need people to get out and vote,” Gross said.
Nowlin said the issue is about providing expanded access to health care, not a handout.
“We’re talking about working Oklahomans who for whatever reason their employer does not provide health insurance and these are folks who are falling through the gaps,” Nowlin said.
Steichen said approving SQ 802 would be one of the most “profound ways” the community and state could show support for “health care heroes in Oklahoma.”
Steichen said Medicaid expansion alone won’t solve the rural healthcare crisis.
“However, it does provide some security and sustenance for rural facilities and physicians as they work to meet the critical needs of the communities by reimbursing them for care they already provide to uninsured and underinsured patients,” Steichen said.
Many states, primarily in the South and Great Plains, have resisted expanding their Medicaid rosters.
Initially, the federal government picked up all of the cost of the expanded benefit program. In recent years, the state share has increased from zero to the maximum 10% in 2020.
If approved, the measure would take effect by July 1, 2021.
Video: Tulsa County Election Board opens for early voting.