An Oklahoma solution to health care crisis
Hospitals are businesses. While some people view health care delivery as a governmental service like education or public safety, health care is a business. It's the largest private industry in the state, employing approximately one out of 10 Oklahomans. This is especially true in rural Oklahoma where health care is often the largest employer.
Not only do hospitals employ many people who pay taxes, they also purchase goods and services from vendors, provide philanthropic support to our communities and often pay tax revenue to state and local governments. They also support businesses around them like specialists and pharmacies.
Like all businesses, hospitals cannot continuously provide services in excess of revenue. Unlike most businesses, hospitals can't turn anyone away. So if someone shows up at the hospital without health insurance, hospitals are obligated to provide care with no way to cover those costs. In a state like Oklahoma with no additional source of funding to fill in the gaps, the economic engine sputters. Often the only options for hospitals are to shift costs to the private sector, increase costs for those with insurance, limit services — or shut down. We have already seen this first hand in communities such as Sayre and Frederick.
Oklahoma needs to take care of all of its people, and having quality hospitals is a key component of physical and economic health. Think about it: A company looking to open a plant in Oklahoma is much more likely to choose a community that has a hospital. Closing hospitals only makes it more difficult to attract capital investment and recruit new jobs, especially to rural Oklahoma. And without jobs or medical care, more people will move away from rural Oklahoma and a downward spiral will accelerate.
Solving the problem will not be easy, but there is a solution that will reduce the size of Oklahoma's Medicaid program, increase the number of Oklahomans with private coverage and reduce the number of uninsured. This Medicaid rebalancing plan is an Oklahoma solution to our health care crisis and our dire budget situation, not a federal one. It prevents a drastic Medicaid provider rate cut that would reduce health care options for Oklahomans and addresses rate reductions and cuts made to our mental health system.
Lawmakers have shown they support innovative solutions to making sure hospitals can remain open. We need to build on that success and pass the Medicaid Rebalancing Act. Let's expand the Insure Oklahoma program and reduce our Medicaid rolls, putting the state on better
Inaction will have devastating, long-term impacts on the health of Oklahomans and the prosperity of our state. It's time for action on what is truly a business issue, impacting all Oklahomans.
This column was printed in The Oklahoman on April 24, 2016