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Cigarette tax, healthcare expansion set to die after lawmakers feud

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Fierce disagreements have likely killed two proposals favored by Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) told reporters both options were off the table after a political standoff that climaxed in late night sessions.

"We are indignant and frustrated with those people in charge who have helped create this mess and have overburdened our hospital for the past six years would dare stand up and say because we won’t vote for a $1.50 cigarette tax increase, healthcare in Oklahoma is going to crumble," said House Minority Leader Scott Inman (R-Del City). "It was a dark, dark week."

Tensions rose when Republican senators refused to pass a proposal to expand health insurance to more low-income Oklahomans.

Approval would have allowed the state to tap into $900 million in funding from the federal government to expand the Insure Oklahoma and, Democrats argue, help struggling rural hospitals.

"We are in a medical crisis, in a healthcare crisis in Oklahoma right now because of the fiscal decisions that have been made in the past six years and most importantly because 16 of 39 senate republicans won’t stand up and do the right thing," said Inman.

As a result, Inman and the Democratic caucus would not approve another Fallin initiative: increase cigarette taxes to raise more than $180 million.

Senate Republicans say they won't budge because Oklahoma will suffer the consequences of expanding the health program, even with all the money on the table.

When President Obama first passed the Affordable Care Act, states that expanded Medicaid could have 100 percent of their costs covered. Now that years have passed, the country will only cover 90 percent of the costs, meaning the state has to chip in.

"We do not have $100 million, so it’s too late for that direction for the state of Oklahoma in which to go and the public sentiment in Oklahoma is totally against any expansion," said Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee).