Supporters for Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma have until Oct. 28 to collect 178,000 signatures if the measure is to be put to a vote of the people in 2020 - and locals have already begun pitching in to acquire names.
One progressive nonpartisan organization, Indivisible Oklahoma, has started offering training for people who want to help gather signatures. The group has been coordinating with locals in rural counties to provide training and help Medicaid expansion supporters reach out to the smallest of communities.
Sherry Wallis, of IO, will actually offer training for a group today, Aug. 16, at noon, at 110 N. Muskogee Ave.
"Our organization is trying to focus outside of the metropolitan areas," said Wallis. "We're kind of making the assumption that Oklahoma City and Tulsa probably have enough coverage, so we're trying to make it available to others."
Pam Iron, Cherokee County Democrats chair and employee at Cherokee County Health Services, said the CCHS Council approved the training and support of the petition as one of its initiatives. Iron was the one who asked Wallis to come conduct the training. She said today's training is limited to about 12-14 people and that it's halfway filled up, but people are still invited to stop by and see if there is room.
Iron has already been trained and can accept signatures now. She said there are a few things voters should be aware of if they want to sign the Medicaid expansion petition. First and foremost, they must be registered voters.
"They also need to be sure and check their voter registration cards, because they have to sign their name just like it's on their voter registration card," said Iron.
After Friday, Iron said, people will be able to go sign the petition at the Cherokee County Health Services Council. She also expects to set up at different locations around the community to ask for people's signatures.
For others who want to help gather signatures, Indivisible Oklahoma plans on hosting other trainings throughout the area. Wallis said the organization wants to find "serious petitioners," because they don't want to hand out any petitions they won't get back.
"Right now, we're really in the training phase," said Wallis. "This is not where they can take the petition and set it on a counter. The petition has to stay in their hands, and whoever is the circulator with that petition, when they are done gathering signatures, they have to go to a notary and have it notarized on the back that they personally witnessed it."
Indivisible Oklahoma is serving as a runner for the signed petitions, as the only two drop of points are in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Meanwhile, its local coordinator will be "targeting county fairs and football games" to ask for signatures. Wallis said Oklahomans can expect to see more petitioners around area communities next week.
"One of our members happened to go into a medical supply store this week, and every employee in the store came up to sign," said Wallis. "This is a nonpartisan issue. This is just to get it on the ballot, so no one should really be opposed to this from our perspective."
Cathy Cooper Cott, Tahlequah resident, said she plans to receive training and wants to help collect the signatures. She said it is important that petitions and signatures of voters are accurate, or else "it's a waste of time and effort."
"If someone comes up to you and says they have a petition, you need to look for that bar code and you need to look on the back to see if they have the notary note on the back," said Cott. "If it does not have that bar code on the back, it is not an official petition."
Oklahoma Indivisible is striving to collect 250,000 signatures, as many of those who sign could be crossed off of the list if their records do not all match. Cott said the name and address under which someone is registered "has to match perfectly or that signature does not count."
Should the question be placed on the ballot and Oklahomans vote "yes" on SQ 802, it would expand Medicaid and bring more than $1 billion to state's health care system. Many believe if the state does not expand Medicaid, those federal dollars will just wind up going to another state. Cott said the expansion wouldn't affect her personally, but she knows people whom it could help and is worried about rural hospitals.
"This is not a Democrat or Republican thing; this is a human being thing," she said. "Human beings, I would think - or hope - would want other human beings, no matter what their political affiliation, to have access to health care."
The Daily Press asked readers during a Facebook Saturday Forum for their opinions on whether the state should expand Medicaid. The majority of respondents said they favored expansion.
"I am all for [Medicaid] expansion," said Cheryl Leeds. "No one in American should be punished with no health coverage because of the price, when health insurance CEOs are raking in millions each year."
Billy Hunter wrote that "it's quite silly to continue playing politics on this" and not expand it.
"We are suffering from rural hospital closures all over this state because we passed on Medicaid expansion for purely political reasons, and we are not alone," wrote Hunter. "Other states that refused to expand Medicaid are in the same predicament, with data showing clearly that hospital closures, in rural areas in particular, are a result of failures to expand Medicaid."
A Daily Press website poll read: "A petition drive has begun to get the expansion of Medicaid on the Oklahoma ballot. Do you agree that Medicaid coverage should be expanded as a means of giving more people access to health care?"
The vast majority of respondents said they "absolutely" agreed; six somewhat agreed; three somewhat disagreed; seven absolutely disagreed; and three were undecided.
People can update their voter registration information at the Cherokee County Election Board, 914 S. College Ave. For more information on local training or where voters can add their signatures to the list, call Pam Iron at 918-822-5232. More information on State Question 802 can also be found at yeson802.org or indivisibleoklahoma.com.