Petitioners hit the streets to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahomans will soon see volunteers with clipboards, asking for your signature to support expanded Medicaid in Oklahoma.

When the Affordable Care Act was passed under President Obama, states were allowed to expand the number of residents covered by Medicaid.
Most states said yes, but Oklahoma did not.

Volunteers were going house-to-house on Wednesday, the first day of gathering signatures to try to expand Medicaid coverage in Oklahoma

"For almost a decade, the Oklahoma Legislature has failed to come up with a plan that would maximize our tax dollars," said Amber English, with
Oklahomans Decide Healthcare. The group is charged with getting 178,000 signatures by Oct.  28 to put the question on a statewide ballot

"This is the time we are leaving money on the table," said Medicaid expansion supporter Erin Taylor.

By not taking full federal assistance, proponents of Medicaid expansion say Oklahoma is leaving $1 billion of their own federal tax dollars for the other 36 states that have accepted full Medicaid to use.

Many Oklahoma House and Senate leaders are against the expansion. Earlier this week, legislative leaders announced a new bipartisan, bicameral work group to formalize a plan to increase money for healthcare without expanding Medicaid.

"The straight-up Medicaid expansion is a cookie-cutter approach and we need something more tailored to our citizens. There are plans out there. This thing is totally doable. So we are ready to get to work and figure out if we can put a dent in our health rankings," said Rep. Marcus McEntire of Duncan.

"It's very important not only for my hospital in Elk City but for all rural hospitals," said Corey Lively of Elk City.

Supporters say eight rural Oklahoma hospitals have filed for bankruptcy since 2016. Six have closed their doors. Healthcare administrators say those federal dollars will help with their huge uninsured care costs.

"Our hospital in Elk City provides about $750,000 a month in uncompensated care total," said Lively.

"When a rural hospital closes, it's not just that we lose healthcare in that community, we lose jobs in that community. That's a huge long-term economic impact for those smaller towns," said Taylor.

For one Oklahoma mother, the drive to get signatures is personal. Ellen Bannister's two sons received Medicaid dollars for developmental disabilities, including many surgeries.

"Given how important Medicaid was to my family in keeping us financially stable but also just getting the life-saving treatment my boys need, I feel a moral obligation to make sure the families in the state get the coverage they need," said Bannister.

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