On June 30, Oklahoma voters will make a big decision about the future of health care. I hope you will join me in voting YES on State Question 802. By expanding Medicaid and bringing home our tax dollars to provide health coverage, we can improve the well-being for nearly 200,000 Oklahomans. We can help keep rural hospitals open, and we will boost the economy.
Right now far too many Oklahomans cannot afford health coverage and cannot get the care they need to stay healthy. Among the uninsured, 70% come from working families. Voting yes will deliver accessible health care to many of the Oklahomans who need it most, including young working parents and people who earn less than $17,000 a year.
Additionally, voting yes will bring more than $1 billion of our dollars back to Oklahoma annually. That is money we, as Oklahomans, already pay in federal taxes and is currently being used to pay for health care in other states. Under Medicaid expansion, the federal government pays 90% of the cost. The state of Oklahoma’s own analysis shows that the state will save $300 million to $600 million after a decade of Medicaid expansion.
Today, 36 other states get billions of dollars in health care funding through Medicaid expansion. For the past decade, Oklahoma has chosen not to participate in Medicaid expansion, sending millions of our federal tax dollars to other states, including most of our neighboring states. If you are tired of paying taxes so that other states can improve access to health care, you should vote yes on SQ 802.
Cherokee Nation is the largest Indian nation in America with more than 385,000 citizens. We operate the nation’s largest tribal health system, providing more than 1.3 million patient visits per year. Cherokee Nation provides some of the best early and preventative care in the country. Passage of SQ 802 would help cover an estimated 14,000 Cherokee and other American Indian patients within our tribal health system.
Cherokee Nation’s tribal health system is partially funded by federal dollars through the Indian Health Service. However, those IHS appropriations have always been well below the full cost of caring for our tribal citizens. To make up the difference as best we can, we encourage Cherokees to obtain insurance coverage, whether through Medicaid, Medicare, the Veterans Administration or private insurance.
The infusion of new dollars from SQ 802 would have a $27 million annual economic impact on Cherokee Nation Health Services alone. That money would go to support good jobs for health care professionals and provide life-saving treatments and medicine to Cherokees. Expanding coverage is a win-win for our tribal health system and the whole state.
Unfortunately, many Oklahomans are forced to put off essential medical care because they have neither insurance nor access to no-fee health services. Many go without needed medical treatment until the problem becomes worse, even fatal. Too many Oklahomans have experienced financial ruin over the cost of care without insurance. This impacts all of us. Oklahomans already “pay” in some form for the cost of health care, or lack thereof, for the uninsured. We just do it in a very inefficient, ineffective, costly and, frankly, immoral way.
Too many rural hospitals in Oklahoma have shut down because their patients were not able to pay for care. Passing SQ 802 will go a long way toward reversing these trends.
On June 30, I urge everyone across Oklahoma to vote YES on SQ 802. A yes vote will make a lasting difference for better health and financial security for all 4 million Oklahomans.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. is principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.