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Oklahomans voted for Medicaid expansion, but they don’t want to pay for it using tobacco settlement funds.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Voters decided Tuesday that they don’t want lawmakers to pay for Medicaid expansion by tapping the state’s constitutionally protected tobacco settlement funds.
Nearly 60% voted against the ballot measure. Garfield County voters rejected the measure by 61.21%.
The resounding rejection of State Question 814 dealt a blow to legislators. Lawmakers had proposed reducing the amount of the annual payment that flows into the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) by 50% to offset some of the expense of the upcoming Medicaid expansion approved by voters earlier this year.
“I hate that it didn’t pass because our options on how to fund Medicaid expansion are really limited at this point, and none of the options that are left on the table are options that people are going to like,” said state Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada.
He said the Legislature is constitutionally mandated to balance the budget. If income is down and expenses are up, lawmakers will have to cut spending somewhere, and there are only so many options on the table.
McCortney said he’s heard some Oklahomans suggest tax increases to pay for expansion, but suspects many of Tuesday’s legislative winners ran on pledges to keep taxes low.
“So increasing taxes to pay for Medicaid expansion is clearly not what the people of Oklahoma are looking for the Legislature to do,” he said.
Had the measure passed, lawmakers would have received about $49.7 million — or 75% — of the state’s share of the annual payment from “big tobacco.” The measure required lawmakers to use the TSET funds to help pay the state’s 10% Medicaid expansion share. The federal government is responsible for paying the remaining 90%.
The voter-mandated Medicaid expansion is expected to shore up struggling hospitals and insure as many as 200,000 more Oklahomans. However, it comes amid a worsening state budget situation and doesn’t provide lawmakers any guidance on how to pay the estimated $164 million to $246 million price tag next year.
“Today’s outcome is an enormous win for Oklahomans who clearly prioritize their health,” said Matt Glanville, Oklahoma government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
He is part of the Vote No — 814 is Not OK coalition.
“We are grateful that voters recognize they don’t have to sacrifice tobacco control and cancer research grants to expand Medicaid,” Glanville said. “The Legislature knows how to fund Medicaid expansion while maintaining the integrity of the TSET trust, and they simply need to implement those measures.”
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