In one of the reddest red states, voters back Medicaid expansion

Oklahoma may be one of the reddest red states, but its voters embraced Medicaid expansion anyway.
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Early voting for Oklahoma's June 30th primary and special election in Oklahoma City on June 25, 2020.Sue Ogrocki / AP file
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By Steve Benen

Headed into this week, Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act had reached 36 states, leaving only 14 holdouts. Of those 14 states, Oklahoma seemed unlikely to join the rest of the country anytime soon.

After all, the Sooner State is among the reddest of the red states: it's led by a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, two Republican U.S. senators, and a five-member U.S. House delegation featuring four Republicans. Republican presidential candidates have carried Oklahoma by more than 30 points in every cycle in the 21st century.

And yet, despite all of this, when Oklahomans were given the option to embrace Medicaid expansion through "Obamacare," they said yes.

Oklahoma voters narrowly approved a state question to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income residents. With all precincts reporting Tuesday, State Question 802, which asked voters to expand Medicaid, passed by 6,488 votes.

As the Daily Oklahoman's report added, yesterday's election outcome "will enshrine Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma's constitution -- effectively preventing Oklahoma's GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican governor from limiting or undoing the expansion."

The practical effects will be critically important to families in need: roughly 200,000 low-income Oklahomans are poised to get health care coverage as a result of yesterday's vote. The state currently has the second highest uninsured rate in the nation, though it's now poised to vastly improve.

Among those most disappointed by the outcome are probably Trump administration officials: as Politico reported, officials in the Republican administration hoped to approve a plan to allow Oklahoma to cap Medicaid spending and punish low-income families in the state. Voters appear to have derailed that plan.

The results come less than two years after voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah also ignored the wishes of their GOP-led state governments and approved Medicaid expansion at the ballot box.

They may soon get some company: voters in Missouri will have an opportunity to also embrace Medicaid expansion next month, when the state holds its statewide primaries on Aug. 4.

Note, after Medicaid proponents submitted the necessary signatures to get the issue on the ballot, it was supposed to be a general-election question for Missouri's electorate. Gov. Mike Parson (R), however, moved the matter to August, probably in order to help his party's candidates in the fall.