Oklahoma is in the midst of a health care coverage crisis. When it comes to the issue of Oklahoma health care in the headlines these days, there are two main stories that you are hearing about: the petition for Medicaid expansion and the new Healthcare Working Group set up by Speaker of the House Charles McCall.
The problem: Both the lack of coverage and the high cost of coverage have forced many Oklahomans (the majority of them employed full time) away from preventive medicine and toward only seeking care when they absolutely need it, which leads to unhealthy habits. At the same time, our rural hospitals not only struggle to stay open, but they also find it increasingly difficult to recruit qualified employees. This forces many rural residents to seek health care hours away in urban areas. We need a health care system that makes our families healthier, makes our economy stronger and enhances our communities.
We have several options to address the low number of Oklahomans that have health care in our state.
The citizen-led petition to expand Medicaid: Oklahomans have suffered in the last eight years as past leadership has refused to accept federal assistance to improve our health care system. This refusal has resulted in a bottom 10 ranking in health outcomes.
A push to expand Medicaid has been blocked for years, until now. Oklahomans Decide Healthcare has put forward a ballot initiative petition to let Oklahoma citizens decide if we should expand Medicaid and accept the return of taxpayer funds we’ve been paying to the federal government.
This increase in cash can bolster our presently underfunded system, increasing access to care by insuring the uninsured and employing medical personnel whose salaries were previously unaffordable. It would also reset the market and challenge the present fee schedule for services. The petition signing window officially opened last week.
Comprehensive legislation: McCall recently announced the formation of a bipartisan, bicameral health care working group. I am honored to be included in this effort. As Stillwater is home to one of the state’s major regional medical centers, I am especially aware that we must build a solution to our health care issues that appeal to both our rural and urban citizens.
The charge of this group is to find solutions for our current health care system and create a policy that encourages and supports a healthier Oklahoma.
The challenge is to find a way to insure the 450,000 Oklahomans who are currently uninsured (many of whom are employed but do not have insurance), as well as to discover ways to bring premiums down for those with private insurance. Add to that expanding care for mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention, as well as increasing support for the health needs of expectant mothers across the state, and you can see that we have one complicated puzzle to put together.
Medicaid expansion hybrid: As a state, we have exhausted any opportunity for quick fixes. The real work of research, discussion and negotiation cannot be ignored.
Solution A and Solution B are moving down very separate paths at the moment, but I don’t see this as an either-or decision. I believe that each has merit and the best solution will require many thoughtful and educated individuals who all want a better life for this state to complete this work. I believe that both options being considered at the same time can improve and deepen the dialogue about what we want health care to look like in this state.
Although many have expressed frustration and anger over the delay in attending to this issue, I am optimistic that we will find a solution. Yes, we should have started eight years ago…but now is as good a time as any to start.
Trish Ranson, a Democrat from Stillwater, is a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Planning the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre history center