Amber England, who headed the campaign to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot in Oklahoma, speaks before supporters in Oklahoma City in October. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
State Question 802 passed with just 50.5 percent, or by 6,488 votes. The measure bypasses the Republican-controlled Legislature and governor’s mansion to enshrine insurance coverage for low-income Oklahomans via the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) in the state’s constitution.
“In the middle of a pandemic, Oklahomans stepped up and delivered lifesaving care for nearly 200,000 of our neighbors, took action to keep our rural hospitals open, and brought our tax dollars home to protect jobs and boost our local economy,” Yes on 802 campaign manager Amber England said in a statement after the victory.
Oklahoma is one of the states dealing with a “Medicaid gap,” the result of Republican state governments’ choosing not to use the ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision. The expansion provides federal funds to help low-income Americans get health care, with the federal government picking up the lion’s share of the cost.
The vote in Oklahoma follows a recent trend of voters in GOP-leaning states passing the Medicaid expansion via ballot initiatives. In 2018, voters in the traditionally red states of Idaho, Nebraska and Utah voted in favor of Medicaid expansion. This was preceded in 2017 by voters approving a similar measure in Maine. Missouri, where voters will choose whether to expand Medicaid on Aug. 4, is up next.
The Trump administration is attempting to overturn Obamacare in the Supreme Court after Congress refused to get rid of it in 2017. Even some conservatives who favor repeal of the ACA — like the Wall Street Journal editorial board — expect the lawsuit to fail when the justices hear it later this year.
If the lawsuit is successful, however, an estimated 15 million who rely on the expansion would lose their insurance, while tens of millions more with preexisting conditions could also be denied coverage.
“Every attempt to repeal the ACA increasingly clarified two things for Americans: what was at stake for them and their families and just how committed opponents of the ACA were, even if it meant millions losing coverage and personal costs skyrocketing,” said Schleifer.