OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has hired a consultant to help devise a state Medicaid program as an alternative to Medicaid expansion.

The Oklahoman reports the OHCA on Thursday finalized a contract with Michigan-based Health Management Associates Inc. for up to $1.49 million during the next year to develop a plan.

OHCA CEO Kevin Corbett said Gov. Kevin Stitt is looking for an experienced consultant to advise him on alternatives to Medicaid expansion, which Stitt has opposed.

Last month, supporters of Medicaid expansion turned in about 313,000 signatures on petitions calling for a statewide vote next year to expand Medicaid coverage in Oklahoma to adults aged 18 to 65 whose income does not exceed 133% of the federal poverty level. An estimated 200,000 Oklahomans currently can't afford health insurance.

About 178,000 registered voters' signatures are needed to put the question on the ballot.

A new study has found that nearly 500 older, low-income Oklahomans died prematurely because the state did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The Oklahoman reports that a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis estimates that 476 state residents between the ages of 55 and 64 died prematurely from 2014 to 2017 because the state declined to expand eligibility for the federal health care program.

Republican leaders in Oklahoma dismissed the study as irresponsible and reckless.