All Oklahomans deserve affordable healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on a problem we’ve been experiencing for a while in rural America: lack of health insurance and underinsurance are difficult for rural facilities to overcome. Since 2010, rural hospitals have been hit hard with seven of the 113 shuttered hospitals across the country being right here in Oklahoma—an estimated 430 more are at risk unless we take action.
Hardworking Oklahomans deserve access to comprehensive and affordable healthcare in their own communities regardless of where they live—particularly during a pandemic. Voting yes on State Question 802 would enable that by taking advantage of already paid-for Medicaid funds. This would ensure 200,000 rural Oklahomans aren’t penalized for living too far from major metropolitan areas just because it’s “unprofitable” to get them the healthcare they deserve—and in the case of Medicaid, that they’ve already paid for.
Since 2010, the definition of who is eligible for Medicaid has expanded and the federal government has been using your tax money to pick up 90% of costs for that expanded populations’ care. But Oklahoma has sat out, leaving citizens uninsured and reimbursement for care that’s owed to them on the table.
In addition to rural communities, Indian tribes have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and expansion of Medicaid will help pay for costs associated with care. Medicaid already reimburses states for 100% of care for every American Indian enrolled in the program who receives care through an Indian Health Service facility. Yes on Question 802 means the state will also receive this 100% reimbursement for this expanded population of American Indians as well. In addition to it being the moral and right thing to do, expanding the program also makes financial sense for both Indian tribes and the state of Oklahoma.
Opponents of Question 802 have falsely claimed that even the 10% the state has to pay would be too much to bear. But several studies from other states who have acted show that the benefits of expanded preventative care, budget flexibility and additional revenue more than make up for the cost. Covering an additional 200,000 Oklahomans for a mere 10% of the cost is simply a matter of budget priorities at the state capitol.
On Tuesday, Oklahomans finally have the chance to decide for themselves and join 37 other states who have already taken advantage of this common sense expansion of healthcare that’s been denied to them for too long. Vote yes on State Question 802 — it’s already paid for and it’s the right thing to do for your family, your community and for Oklahoma. It’s now in your hands.
Rusty Pickens (Chickasaw) and Geoffrey Roth (Standing Rock Sioux) are Former Senior Advisors for the U.S. departments of State and Health and Human Services, respectively. They are also Co-founders of Inaji Industries, a healthcare technology and policy company working on behalf of Indian country with a focus on COVID-19 response.