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On June 30, State Question 802 passed with a majority of Oklahoma voters. This historic vote means Oklahoma’s state constitution will expand Medicaid, and guarantee healthcare for lower-income Oklahomans, a massive victory for a state whose median income ranks 45th out of 50 states, a Kaiser Family Foundation study finds.
According to the Tulsa World, Oklahoma citizens struggle with alarmingly high rates of smoking, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and premature birth. Across the nation, Oklahoma ranks 2nd for citizens without health insurance. This is a public health issue, as uninsured Oklahomans face barriers to preventative healthcare, including vaccines, putting all people at risk.
Citizens who are uninsured often go to an emergency department for care, using resources intended for patients with serious health issues, including those with Covid-19. When patients are unable to pay their medical bills, hospitals lose resources and are forced to cut services, affecting all patients. Expanding Medicaid seems like the obvious answer, both humane and cost-effective.
Proponents of expanding Medicaid included The Tulsa World, Muskogee Phoenix and The Black Wall Street Times newspapers, Saint Francis Health System, The Oklahoma State Medical Association, and the Oklahoma State Nurses Association. And yet, 49.5% of Oklahoma voters — most of those in lower-income, rural counties — did not support expanding Medicaid.
Political opponents of the expansion included Governor Stitt, Americans for Prosperity, and the Oklahoma District 4 Republican party chair, Steve Fair, all of whom registered complaints about the cost, and potential cuts to current health programs. While Governor Stitt tried to promote his own healthcare agenda, he offered no opportunities to expand healthcare services to lower-income Oklahomans and floated “modest premiums” to be paid for by individuals.
Across the state, the votes against expanding health insurance for lower-income citizens were concentrated in rural and lower-income counties. The same counties disproportionately affected by citizens without insurance voted against providing more people with insurance. The same citizens who complain that their hospitals have fewer resources than larger medical centers, and face shortfalls to their already meager budget and services, actually voted to decrease healthcare funding further.
Lower-income citizens and those who live in rural counties in Oklahoma are being intentionally misled by savvy politicians who have convinced people to vote against their self-interests.
Governor Stitt, and politicians who find their base among lower-income Oklahomans in rural counties, created talking points about the economic impact of expanding Medicaid — whipping vulnerable citizens into a frenzy of us vs. them.
In this case, rural and lower-income Oklahomans were charged with anger at citizens in Tulsa and Oklahoma City for voting to expand Medicaid under the guise of financial responsibility. The irony is that many of those citizens are also the same people who struggle to pay for health insurance and will benefit from expanding Medicaid. Many are irrationally angry at the voters who supported a change in Oklahoma’s state constitution to provide healthcare to lower-income citizens. The real anger should be directed at politicians who continue pitting people against each other, knowing that health care is just today’s talking point.
Nevertheless, thanks to the June 30th vote, 200,000 Oklahoma citizens will have health care — including lower-income citizens in rural counties.