Oklahoma faces a massive problem with access to affordable healthcare. Thousands of Oklahomans are under or flat out uninsured and lack access to major medical care outside of an emergency room. This means they also lack access to preventative care that would have kept them out of the emergency room in the first place. As both a state government and as individuals, we spend an exorbitant amount of both time and money dealing with the consequences of under and uninsured Oklahomans. This has real-world consequences. When we do not support policy that guarantees healthcare for everyone, otherwise productive, employable people can deteriorate to the point where they cannot physically work. When that happens, our economy loses the productivity of the afflicted, our local healthcare facilities are burdened with worse-off individuals requiring elevated levels of care, and because that care is more complex and expensive, those who have insurance end up paying far higher costs to cover those expenses than they would have had we covered the uninsured in the first place.
While there are numerous policies, programs, and best practices that we can and should employ to help fix this problem, the biggest solution is simple and well known. We must pass State Question 802, expand Medicaid, and diligently implement the expansion through legislation. The organizations supporting the Medicaid Expansion State Question (SQ 802) expect that if Oklahoma reclaimed its federal tax dollars by expanding Medicaid, as many or more than 200,000 Oklahomans would gain access to affordable healthcare. That is 200,000 men, women, and children who would be able to live, work, learn, and care for their families without the fear of untreated illness or injury or financial ruin from medical debt. We know this is true because the Oklahoma Policy Institute reports that every state that took the Medicaid expansion experienced better health outcomes, especially in the realm of preventative care that led to things like increased cancer screenings which led to earlier diagnoses and fewer deaths.
Governor Stitt’s proposed “block grant” program is insufficient to combat the needs of the moment. It will not only fail to cover all those who need coverage, but it will also reduce services to those already covered by capping the amount of funding for the program. SQ 802, which requires a full expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is the best solution on the table to meet the needs of under and uninsured Oklahomans. It is important to note that passage of SQ 802 is only the beginning. We will still need dedicated legislators who will defend the will of the people and implement the expansion without distraction or delay. Carly is absolutely committed to that cause and she will fight with all her strength for the healthcare that Oklahoma so badly needs.
UPDATE March 13, 2020
With the spread of the Coronavirus and the associated disease, COVID-19, the need for smart health care policy is only going to intensify. As Oklahoma deals with the cases already present in the state and prepares for the possibility of widespread transmission, it is all the more important to closely monitor our healthcare system. The issues facing the under and uninsured will get worse and we must respond to that now. We also need to examine our system for weak spots that can be improved so that we are better prepared for the next crisis to come our way.