BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Shortly after my wife was born, her father’s check paying the hospital in full was $86.30. The receipt showed that for the healthy delivery, the three day hospital stay was itemized as $30 for the delivery room, $10 per day for her mother’s room, $5 per day for the nursery, $3.50 for miscellaneous expenses and a whopping $7.80 for drugs and other medications.
It was the era of country doctors who often rendered care and, in lieu of cash, for years thereafter found unending supplies of fruits, vegetables, eggs and other gifts of heartfelt gratitude on their porches. That was then, this is now.
Much has changed in the health care industry. When President Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act in 1986, medical facilities predicted that the mandate to treat everyone without regard to their ability to pay would place onerous burden on the financial solvency of America’s emergency rooms.
Thirty years later, uncompensated care, medical services rendered to the uninsured population has literally placed hospitals on “life support.”
So what is the answer? Does our country deny medical care to the growing number of Americans who cannot afford medical care and cannot afford medical insurance? There are many voices that protest against programs like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, but few voices that have answers to these urgent questions. Unfortunately, our hospitals and clinics cannot survive in the current environment.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2014, 45% of all Oklahomans receive their health insurance through an employer provided plan and 33% are either on Medicare, Medicaid or a similar program. Only about 5% of Oklahomans actually shop for and purchase their own individual health plans.
Consequently, Oklahoma has a higher percentage of uninsured citizens [16%] than any state except Texas and those 16% are among the unhealthiest citizens in Oklahoma, a state that is regarded by most to be between the 46th and 50th unhealthiest state in the country.
They are the Oklahomans who visit the emergency room because they have neither insurance nor the means to pay for care. By waiting until a minor illness becomes serious, sometimes life threatening, the cost of treatment skyrockets.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma has refused to lift one finger to improve the situation. The Oklahoma Legislature failed to enact a transitional reinsurance program to help keep insurance companies solvent when the claims of unhealthy Oklahomans become excessive. Oklahoma’s Insurance Commissioner refuses to review requested health insurance rate increases. Oklahoma’s governor refuses to do anything to help insure working Oklahomans who are not making enough money to purchase insurance and whose employers do not provide health insurance as a benefit.
So what are the answers? A legislator from Tennessee [which has also neglected the health of its citizens] says that those who cannot purchase insurance should “be like the Mennonites and pay their doctors with vegetables,” and a senate candidate from Nevada said that she was “not ready to back down” from a system where doctors are paid with chickens, because, “Doctors are very sympathetic people.”
Unhealthy, uninsured Oklahomans jeopardize the viability of health care for all of us. Certain politicians and media outlets repeatedly remind us about how bad the Affordable Care Act is and appear to gleefully report that it isn’t working, but they propose no solutions. Until they do, remind them that it would be helpful to work together in a bipartisan way to resolve this problem, because we all know that our uninsured, working poor are not going to get very far by offering a rutabaga in return for an appendectomy.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House