The Catholic bishops of Oklahoma have voiced support for a ballot measure that would expand Medicaid in the state.

“Our state’s SoonerCare program currently provides critical health coverage to Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and children,” the bishops said in a statement this week. “This program plays a vital role in sustaining the health care delivery system in our state, particularly in rural areas where access to quality health care is increasingly unavailable.”

“However, based on the clients we help through the work of Catholic Charities and with patients seeking care at our Catholic hospitals, it is apparent that access to affordable health care coverage — which is so necessary for human flourishing — is becoming less available over time,” they continued.

Oklahoma remains one of 14 states that has not yet expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

On June 30, Oklahomans will be asked to cast their votes in a primary election ballot. State Question 802 is a voter-initiated referendum that would alter the Oklahoma constitution to expand Medicaid coverage. The federal government would pay for 90% of the expansion, while the state would cover the other 10% of costs.

“While we agree that amending the state constitution is a method that should be reserved for special circumstances, our present health care crisis demands action that cannot wait for a political solution,” the state bishops said in their statement.

They noted that their support for the effort is conditional upon Hyde Amendment protections remaining in place to ensure that taxpayer money does not go to pay for elective abortions.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt had put forward an alternate expansion plan that would have increased eligibility for Medicaid coverage while also capping federal spending, instituting premiums, and establishing work requirements.

Last month, however, the governor vetoed a bill that would have raised hospital fees to help fund his plan. He said the state had not anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting rise in unemployment rates, which are expected to create a significant increase in the number of people enrolled in Medicaid.

Local media reported this month that the Oklahoma Health Department has withdrawn its plan amid funding uncertainties.