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Oklahoma conservative group challenges Medicaid expansion petition

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Demonstrators urge lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage during a rally at the state Capitol in April. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]
Demonstrators urge lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage during a rally at the state Capitol in April. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs filed a challenge Thursday against putting the question of Medicaid expansion on the ballot in 2020.

The OCPA — an Oklahoma City-based conservative think tank — filed a challenge with the state Supreme Court, alleging an initiative petition seeking to bring Medicaid expansion to a statewide vote is unconstitutional because expanding federal health benefits in Oklahoma would allow the federal government to step on the duties of state lawmakers.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion filed an initiative petition on April 19 to let Oklahoma voters decide whether to expand the federal-state health program to cover more low-income residents. It is unclear who is funding the initiative, which would appear on the ballot as State Question 802.

OCPA is asking for the initiative petition to be barred from the November 2020 ballot.

If the initiative petition withstands the legal challenge, supporters of Medicaid expansion would have to collect nearly 178,000 valid signatures to qualify the question for the ballot.

In its filing with the court, the OCPA claims the Medicaid expansion initiative petition “seeks to constitutionalize a massive entitlement program and would give the federal government, not Oklahoma, the authority to control eligibility and the cost borne to Oklahoma.”

The filing cites precedent in which the Oklahoma Supreme Court has said delegating legislative authority to the federal government is a violation of separation of powers.

“There is no authority to support states delegating core legislative power to the federal government,” the OCPA claims.

The legal protest also charges that the ballot language submitted to the state is legally inaccurate and misleading because it does not adequately describe that the initiative petition constitutionally obligates the state to pay Medicaid benefits.

The proposed state question would amend Oklahoma’s constitution to expand Medicaid “to certain low-income adults between the ages of 18 and 65 whose income does not exceed 133% of the federal poverty level.”

Leading the legal challenge for the OCPA is former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma Robert McCampbell of Gable Gotwals law firm.

The petition was filed on behalf of several Oklahoma residents, including OCPA President Jonathan Small. One is a registered nurse in Oklahoma County and another petitioner is a radiologist who treats patients covered by Medicaid.

The state Supreme Court will have 10 days from Thursday's filing to hold a hearing on the initiative challenge.

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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