As a father, physician and Oklahoman, I am compelled to be a voice and an advocate for Medicaid expansion. I am called to fight for the needs of families, neighbors and those on the margins of society.

As a physician, I took an oath to “first, do no harm.” Without Medicaid expansion, we are quickly approaching the threshold of harm. Many have already been affected, and some harmed, by lack of access to proper health care.

We, the people of Oklahoma, have the ability to make a difference. We have the ability to impact the lives of those in need, those without a voice, and those who have never known the benefits of basic primary and preventive medical care.

In Oklahoma, our state and local leadership has always taken a strong stance on protecting the lives of the unborn. As an obstetrician and gynecologist, and as the chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology section at Saint Francis Hospital, I am puzzled by the inaction of state leaders on the issue of Medicaid expansion. Looking through the lens of Oklahoma’s historical stance on protection of the unborn, I can’t see anything more valuable to that child than the ability to be born into a healthy household in a healthy community with a stable economy with a bright future.

I see the face of Medicaid every day in my practice. These people aren’t looking for a handout; they’re looking for help and healing. They are young adults, single mothers and fathers, veterans and seniors. Medicaid expansion should not be a political issue — it is a moral issue, a social justice issue and an economic issue … and for me, it is a patient care issue.

I am fortunate to work in a health system that allows me to care for the person in front of me without regard to economic or financial status.

Not all physicians have this freedom. In small towns, rural health care providers and critical access hospitals are being forced to shut their doors or limit services due to lack of funding and reimbursement for the care they provide.

When a rural hospital closes, the impact goes far beyond the loss of local access to health care. The economic impact of a hospital closing can be devastating for a community. Conversely, supporting physicians and health care centers by reimbursing them for the care they provide, can have a substantial positive impact on the community’s economy.

I recently had a chance to visit the commissioner of health for the state of Louisiana about that state’s experience with Medicaid expansion. She related that 19,000 new jobs were created and the uninsured rate among adults dropped from 22.7% in 2015 to 11.4% in 2017. Oklahoma deserves the opportunity for a healthy future as the other 36 states that have expanded Medicaid.

We are already funding Medicaid expansion — just not in our state. It is time to use our dollars to benefit our state. It is time to invest our dollars in our future. And it is time that we put politics aside and act in the best interest of our citizens — current and future.

Dr. Donald E. Loveless Jr., a Tulsa physician, is section chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Saint Francis Hospital.

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