Health Care

Staff | May 10, 2019

OCPA files legal challenge to Medicaid-expansion petition


The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank, has filed a legal challenge to an initiative petition that would expand the state’s Medicaid welfare program, saying the proposal is unconstitutional and the petition gist is so misleading it violates state law.

“There are a lot of policy reasons to oppose Medicaid expansion,” said Jonathan Small, president of OCPA. “But this initiative petition is also unconstitutional and misleading, and those problems should be addressed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.”

Under traditional Medicaid, states like Oklahoma receive roughly 60 cents in federal money for every 40 cents provided in state funding to give government health coverage to certain low-income and disabled individuals. But under the federal Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, states can receive a 90-10 match to cover able-bodied adults with income above the current eligibility threshold. Oklahoma lawmakers have opted not to expand the program, which could cost state taxpayers up to $374 million annually.

But a recently filed initiative petition would place Medicaid expansion on the ballot, and could make it part of the Oklahoma Constitution.

OCPA and fellow plaintiffs argue the petition unconstitutionally delegates legislative authority away from Oklahoma and to the federal government because the proposal would give federal bureaucrats and Congress power to control eligibility for Oklahoma’s Medicaid program and the costs borne by Oklahoma state taxpayers to support the program.

The gist, a legally required summary provided to citizens during the signature-gathering process, also includes false information and omits legally required information.

The gist says the Medicaid expansion will be for people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). But under federal law, expansion must include everyone with income up to 138 percent of the FPL, and partial expansion is not allowed. That difference potentially equates to thousands of people and millions of taxpayer dollars. Similar initiative petitions in Maine and Nebraska expressly established that 138 percent of the FPL was the income limit for Medicaid expansion.

The gist also fails to explain how the proposal would delegate legislative authority away from Oklahoma and to the federal government. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down other petitions for similar flaws.

“This initiative petition has fatal constitutional flaws and fails to inform citizens about the real details of this massive welfare expansion,” Small said. “These flaws are so severe, the petition should not be allowed to proceed.”

The petitioners challenging the petition effort are OCPA; Small; Doug Beall, a radiologist who currently treats patients covered by Medicaid; and Jennifer Witherby, a registered nurse.


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