GOP legislatures against Medicaid expansion billboard located at I-235 and NE 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. Photo by Ken Townsend.

Billboard demanding Medicaid expansion lights up Oklahoma City, a national progressive political and educational organization, is calling out the Republican governors who have blocked their state’s citizens from accessing health care. The first state for the campaign was Louisiana, where the group put together a billboard that parodies the state’s tourism slogan, “Lou!siana. Pick your passion! The full sign says “LOU!SIANA. Pick your passion! But hope you don’t love your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.” The state sued over the sign. This so incensed MoveOn membership that they sent in thousands of contributions, and the result is that Oklahoma now has its very own MoveOn billboard.

The sign says “Welcome to Oklahoma. Where 144,000 people are denied health care because Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.” The electronic sign is located on I-235 northbound at NE 23rd Street. Oklahoma’s MoveOn council wanted to name Governor Mary Fallin, but Lamar, the local sign company, would not agree to the use of the Governor’s name on the billboard.

The local council, and the Coalition for Medicaid Expansion, held an informational press conference Tuesday afternoon. The organizer of the Central Oklahoma Council of, Patricia McCauley, accused Gov. Fallin and the Republican dominated legislature of ’depraved indifference’ in refusing to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma.

McCauley said, “Governor Fallin and Republicans in the state legislature have had almost two years to come up with an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, but in two years, they have come up with absolutely nothing. The Republican’s conduct in this instance is so deficient in any moral sense of concern for the health and welfare of Oklahoma citizens, and so lacking in regard for the lives of others, [that their actions] could be categorized as depraved indifference.”

The Affordable Care Act, usually called Obamacare, made it possible for states to extend Medicaid to poor citizens making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,000. The federal government would foot 100 percent of the bill for the first three years, and 90 percent thereafter. However, Governors Fallin, Jindal, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and many other GOP governors in states where the party dominates, refused to accept the program or the money. Due to a Supreme Court decision on the matter, states that don’t accept the Medicaid expansion cost their poorest citizens the federal subsidy for health insurance, making it almost impossible for these people to afford coverage.

Susan McCann, speaking at the event for the Coalition for Medicaid Expansion, said Fallin’s decision not to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma left 144,000 working Oklahomans “without healthcare coverage that was guaranteed through Medicaid expansion. These individuals earn too little to afford health insurance, they have no disposable income.”

Also attending the event was Wallace Collins, Chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. Collins said, “I’m proud to be here today representing the working people of Oklahoma and I certainly think that Governor Fallin was wrong to turn down the $54 million in federal money. I think it’s certainly needed in Oklahoma. We just basically gave away that money.”

Democratic politicians are also joining the fight. Shane Stone, a Democrat running for the State House in Southwest Oklahoma City’s district 89, said, “I’m here today because after talking to many of my constituents over the past several months, on their doorsteps, I’ve talked to many people who have been personally affected by the fact that Oklahoma has not accepted the Medicaid expansion funding. I think it’s absolutely vital that we do so, we don’t leave 144,000 working Oklahomans without health coverage. They could very much use health insurance.”

He continued, “I think it should be a shame on the Governor that she’s done that.”

After the press conference, Ms. McCann went to the nearby state Capitol to deliver a petition from 7,000 Oklahomans asking Gov. Fallin to “reconsider her position on Medicaid expansion, and go ahead and accept those dollars.”

The fallout from the sign and the lawsuit raised enough money that many other Red states will be getting billboards criticizing their Governors and Legislatures for refusing to expand Medicaid. The Oklahoma City billboard will be active for two weeks. MoveOn is also running radio spots on KTOK calling the public’s attention to the Governor’s refusal on Medicaid.

The next state targeted? Kansas. Watch for your sign there in the near future.

by Rob Howard, Gayly Associate Editor

The Gayly – April 1, 2014 @ 6:50pm