Health Care

Ray Carter | March 6, 2020

Democrat praises GOP’s embrace of Obamacare

Ray Carter

GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt’s embrace of Obamacare Medicaid expansion and Republican legislative leaders’ efforts to assist in that effort has reaped backhanded praise from an unexpected source: legislative Democrats who have long championed the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its Medicaid expansion.

In a release, House Democratic Leader Emily Virgin of Norman said legislative Democrats “are glad that Governor Stitt and legislative Republicans are finally seeing the need to expand the Affordable Care Act.”

Virgin made that comment in an otherwise critical press release that urged Stitt to set the election date for a Medicaid-expansion measure that has qualified for a public vote. The ballot measure and Stitt’s plan are largely identical, providing taxpayer funded health coverage to the same group of able-bodied adults with income under a certain level. A state report previously estimated the expansion population includes up to 628,000 people.

The major difference between the two plans is that the ballot measure would make Medicaid a constitutional right for able-bodied adults while Stitt’s plan would instead place expansion in state law. Unlike the ballot measure, Stitt’s plan may eventually include some modest work and cost-sharing requirements for those added to Medicaid, but it’s debatable whether those provisions would ever be enacted or enforced. Other states that have included similar measures either provided so many exemptions that the work and cost-sharing became effectively symbolic or those states quickly abandoned the requirements in the face of lawsuits.

Democratic leaders in the Oklahoma Legislature say their caucuses are opposed to Stitt’s Medicaid plan and instead support the ballot measure, which Virgin said “is the cleanest, most transparent way to expand health care coverage in Oklahoma.”

Even as Oklahoma’s Republican leaders now effectively champion the Obamacare law they long criticized, some figures on the political left are citing problems with the ACA that were previously noted by Republicans.

Supporters of the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” have been blunt in their assessment of the Affordable Care Act., a website put together by Sanders supporters, declares, “A decade of Obamacare has not brought down the cost of health insurance premiums and health care expenses, even for Americans with health insurance. Health care costs continue to be the top cause of bankruptcy. Thousands of people are forced to ask for money online to help cover unexpected medical costs. Many patients with chronic conditions are forced to ration drugs like insulin due to price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. 13.7% of Americans are still uninsured and that number is rising.

“We continue to pay far more for healthcare compared to any other developed country,” the pro-Sanders site continues, “and we get lower quality care.”

However, Stitt’s proposal aligns with a significant part of the policy prescription offered by Sanders’ supporters to address those shortcomings.

“Until comprehensive universal healthcare is passed, we must expand and improve the Medicaid program,” states.

It is not known how many individuals granted Medicaid eligibility by Oklahoma expansion would sign up. Stitt and Republican lawmakers argue the figure will be just 180,000, or just 29 percent of the eligible population. The state cost of covering the entire eligible population would total $374 million per year.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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