There are two things I always hear about Oklahoma, and I'm proud they are true.
While attending various political, charitable and business gatherings in my native state, I often hear that we are “pro-business.” The other truth is that Oklahomans are willing to pull together and help each other.
The combination of these Oklahoma values leaves me shocked when considering Gov. Mary Fallin's announcement that Oklahoma doesn't want to accept billions of dollars in federal financing to expand the Medicaid program and provide low-income families with access to health care.
As a commercial real estate broker, I'm interested in the health of Oklahoma's economy. So let's examine the economics of Medicaid expansion.
As part of a compromise within the Affordable Care Act, American hospitals agreed to relinquish a major federal reimbursement for treating uninsured patients in emergency rooms. Those savings were then appropriated to cover Medicaid expansion, which would open states' Medicaid programs to adults earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. This would use 90 percent federal funding and only 10 percent state funding.
What would that do for health care, Oklahoma's third-largest industry? It would create high-paying jobs and prevent rural hospitals from closing. It would stimulate our economy and accomplish what many Oklahoma organizations already strive to do: help lower-income families access health care. It would mean approximately 130,000 Oklahomans who earn less than $10 per hour would finally have health insurance, helping them pay for primary health care and stay out of hospital emergency rooms.
A common misconception is that poor Oklahoma adults already have Medicaid. The truth is, Oklahoma has one of the nation's smallest Medicaid programs. Eligibility is limited to children living in poverty, poor pregnant women, the disabled and the poorest of parents without full-time jobs.
I serve as board treasurer for Variety Care, a nonprofit community health center serving about 56,000 lower-income people in Oklahoma City and southwest Oklahoma. Our doctors and dentists bill Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, but we also raise money and use United Way dollars to offer uninsured Oklahomans affordable self-pay options. Our results are amazing. By providing quality primary care to these uninsured patients, we prevent or manage chronic illnesses. We keep them at work and out of the hospital. We keep their kids in school, and we keep working adults healthier, making them less expensive for Medicare at age 65.
But what we can't do is choose to accept billions of dollars into our economy to help 130,000 Oklahomans and support countless Oklahoma businesses. Only our elected officials can do that.
Providing health care access is pro-business, and by pulling together to improve the lives of all Oklahomans, it is pro-Oklahoma. Fallin and many legislators ran their campaigns on a pro-business platform, promising to make good fiscal decisions for our state. This is their chance to prove it.
Dunn is a vice president at CB Richard Ellis in Oklahoma City.