Calling on elected leaders to look beyond politics to the moral consequences of certain decisions, an ecumenical faith group on Thursday asked Gov. Mary Fallin and the state Legislature to reconsider the refusal of federal funds to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Conference of Churches, a group of 16 Christian faith organizations in Oklahoma, submitted a “pastoral letter” to Fallin's office regarding her decision last year to reject Medicaid expansion funding through the federal Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare.
The Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, gave a brief statement outlining clergy leaders' concerns at a news conference Thursday at the Capitol.
“I think we need to look past the politics of this and look at what it is that they're really trying to accomplish. Let's look at the moral aspects,” Konieczny said.
Path to good health
“I realize that it's complex but by getting those federal dollars, we have control of how we use those dollars,” he said. “More importantly, those who are the less fortunate in our society can be placed on a pathway towards good health.”
The Rev. William Tabbernee, the conference's executive director, said the diverse faith communities' commitment to aiding the poor was integral in their decision to unite on the issue.
“That is a wonderful sign of the solidarity on this issue,” Tabbernee said. “The opportunity to receive federal dollars to expand federal health care in Oklahoma is an opportunity not to be wasted.”
Thursday, Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin's office said the governor shares the faith community leaders' concerns about health care in Oklahoma.
“The governor is absolutely committed to improving the health of Oklahomans and trying to get affordable, high-quality medical treatment for all Oklahomans, regardless of income,” he said. “Certainly the governor's outlook on that is informed by her faith as well as her politics.”
Weintz said instead of accepting the federal funding, Oklahoma-based solutions are being explored.
“We continue to look at the numbers, and she does not feel this is an affordable option and that if we were to pursue expansion of Medicaid, it would be at the expense of education, public safety and even other health care for the state,” Weintz said of the federal health care plan.
Meanwhile, several other clergy leaders spoke out Thursday on the issue.
The Rev. Stan Basler, a United Methodist who is chairman of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches' Impact Committee, said he believed Fallin and many state legislators realize the moral considerations of their faith but fear what will happen after federal Medicaid funding dries up in roughly three years. He said even if the federal funding goes away, much good will have been accomplished with the funding over several years time.
The Rev. James Dorn, president of the Progressive Oklahoma Baptist State Convention, said the conference of churches was appealing to state elected leaders' compassion in asking for reconsideration of the Medicaid expansion issue.
“We believe this funding would provide outcomes for all of Oklahoma to be a healthier state and also the money will provide an economic stimulus,” Dorn said.
The Rev. Bruce Prescott, director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, said accepting the federal funding for Medicaid expansion could help unclog hospital emergency rooms where he said many unemployed and underemployed Oklahomans go to get much of their basic medical needs met.
The Rev. George Young, pastor of Holy Temple Baptist Church, like Dorn, said accepting the federal funding would be good for the entire state, not just the poor.
“I pray that we will see the logic of reversing this decision so that Oklahoma can be more than OK — it can be healthfully great,” Young said.