Oklahoma’s elected officials must embrace every opportunity to bring comprehensive, affordable healthcare to ALL Oklahomans. We can begin by accepting Medicaid expansion. In one swift act of compassion, we can ensure that many of our most vulnerable neighbors get the care they need.
Healthcare is expensive. Those of us who are insured can often take medical care for granted. We see the doctor or dentist for regular preventive care, visit again whenever we get sick, and go to the ER or hospital when emergencies happen.
But for more than 546,000 Oklahomans, there is no insurance – and no hope of paying.
Oklahoma is ranked No. 2 in the nation for the percentage of uninsured according to a recent Tulsa World article.[i] More than 14 percent of our population has no health insurance – no vision, no dental, no hospital, no preventive care. No nothing.
Many of our uninsured fall into what is called the “eligibility gap.” They work, but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Yet their employers provide no insurance, and they don’t earn enough to afford private insurance.
Because healthcare costs are so far beyond their means, most of the uninsured avoid doctors – until disaster strikes. Then they visit emergency rooms or are admitted to the hospital, where costs are even further out of reach. They can’t pay, there’s no insurance backup, and more bad outcomes rain down.
Hospitals that treat the uninsured have to bear the uncompensated costs they incur. To meet financial obligations, many are forced to reduce levels and types of care offered to the general public. In response, insured people who can afford to travel elsewhere go to other hospitals for care.
Small rural hospitals are the hardest hit. A growing number have closed in recent years. This September, a hospital in Paul’s Valley, OK, started a GoFundMe campaign just to keep its doors open.
In its year-end 2017 report, America’s Health Rankings ranked Oklahoma 43rd in the nation in overall health.[ii] Our high number of uninsured was a primary factor. A national health rank of 43, more than 546,000 uninsured, and countless underinsured citizens constitute an Oklahoma healthcare crisis.
We know how the crisis happened. Beginning in 2011, Gov. Fallin and Oklahoma’s legislative leadership made every effort to thwart the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as the ACA, or Obamacare). They refused to set up an Oklahoma-run insurance exchange and rejected $54 million in federal grant money to build the exchange. Then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt sued the Obama administration, challenging the legality of both state-run and federal exchanges, and then sued to block the award of subsidies to federal exchange participants. Late in 2012, the governor refused Medicaid expansion and rejected federal funding of 90 percent of expanded Medicaid costs.
With these flawed decisions, our so-called public servants guaranteed that hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans would remain uninsured and that countless others would pay higher rates. The decisions are an ongoing assault on the health and prosperity of our state.
I believe that our governor and legislators have the duty and responsibility to ensure that ALL Oklahomans can afford comprehensive healthcare, including mental health and substance abuse services. In addition to expanding Medicaid immediately, we must explore ways to encourage more insurance carriers to join the Oklahoma exchange so that competition increases and premiums fall.
As legislators, we should be honored to embrace the trust placed in us by the people of our state. As your representative, I promise to work to secure affordable health insurance and comprehensive healthcare for House District 34 and Oklahoma.
I invite you to contact me to share your concerns and insights.