BY ANASTASIA PITTMAN
Why are we rejecting Medicaid? The answer given by opponents of the expansion is that it will break the bank, that health care is not a proper function of government, and that we are do not want to spend money on someone else’s health care.
The first premise, that the expansion will break the bank, is easy to poke holes in.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the federal government will spend $8,561 million on the expansion in Oklahoma from 2014 through 2022 and the state will spend $689 million in that same time period. Millions of dollars, in a state that spends nearly $7 billion each year, is a drop in the bucket, especially when you consider that this money will be spent over nine years.
The second premise, that health care is not a proper function of government, relies less on fact, but I would like to make the case for it.
What makes protecting Oklahomans from harm brought about by diseases and chronic conditions any different from protecting them from crime? Approximately one out of every five Oklahoma residents is uninsured and we have one of the poorest health rankings in the nation. About 9,000 residents who are currently covered under Insure Oklahoma will lose their coverage on December 31 of this year. Children and senior citizens will be among them. Approximately 1,000 working Oklahomans will be among them. Oklahoma experiences 5,200 more deaths than the national average, which I assure you is not a good average to begin with.
The third premise that we shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s health care simply does not apply. The money has been approved and will be spent. Where do you think the money will go, if it does not go back to Oklahomans? It will go to other Americans.
Tax dollars will go to pay for the uninsured, but by rejecting the Medicaid expansion, we our ensuring that our tax dollars will be spent in other states. We are also ensuring that we will be paying for health care through state programs, but will be doing so without receiving matching federal funds.
The rejection of the Medicaid expansion has resulted in the vocal dissension of a Republican state lawmaker and emergency room physician from the House Republican Caucus. If anyone should understand what a raw deal the rejection of the expansion is, it is Rep. Doug Cox, MD. The governor herself is conflicted on this issue, pushing for an alternate plan to cover uninsured Oklahomans.
So the question I would pose to Oklahomans, who on a whole are pragmatic, is if the cost is manageable and if the money has already come out of our paychecks, why not protect our fellow residents from harm and death? Why would we let the government keep our money?
Rejecting the Medicaid expansion will not prevent the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but it will be giving your money away instead of letting it be used to help your friends and neighbors.
– Anastasia Pittman, an Oklahoma City Democrat, represents District 99 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. She also is chair of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus and of the Health and Human Services of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators.