The Cigarette Tax is Rejected, What Will SoonerCare Do Now?

Last week we took the time to explain what SoonerCare is, and why it is so important to Oklahomans with disabilities. We also told you about the financial crisis that threatens to destroy our state’s healthcare system, and the cigarette tax that many had hoped would save our state’s Medicaid system. Well the votes are in, and things are not looking brighter.

Cigarette Tax Rejected: What Will SoonerCare Do Now?Photo of a Pile of Paperwork

The vote was 59-40 to pass the cigarette tax many were hoping would save SoonerCare. However, on issues that involve tax increases, bills require 76 votes to pass in the Oklahoma House. That means the cigarette tax was rejected, which keeps an estimated $180 million out of the SoonerCare program and almost guarantees the 25 percent provider rate cut proposed by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA). Now, OHCA is preparing for the storm waiting on its doorstep.

Nico Gomez, chief executive officer of OHCA, went to eight cities across the state trying to convince people that the Rebalancing Act—which included the cigarette tax—would be the most effective way to fund SoonerCare, but his efforts didn’t win the needed votes from senators. Now, Gomez has delayed the final vote on the 25 percent provider rate cut that his department has proposed, hoping that the legislature will have a last minute change of heart, and that funding will be provided in the state’s budget, but there is very little hope at the moment.

How Did The Rebalancing Act Go Wrong?

The Oklahoma Senate didn’t have the necessary votes to pass the cigarette tax because parts of the bill that would have expanded Medicaid and qualified SoonerCare for an estimated $900 million in funding were cut out. This forced the hand of 30 House Democrats that refuse to pass the bill without a Medicaid expansion, while Republicans in the House and the Senate refuse to consider a Medicaid expansion. However, many experts believe that the cigarette tax wouldn’t have been enough without the Medicaid expansion.

Will the Senators and Representatives work out their differences in time, or will the Oklahoma healthcare system collapse? What will this mean for Oklahomans with disabilities if a solution isn’t found? For more answers, keep following our disability blog, and let us know what you think on Facebook and Twitter.


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