Not accepting Medicaid expansion was a mistake

Published: December 9, 2012
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I worked for a United Way/United Methodist organization for 25 years. For 15 years, in partnership with a half dozen nonprofit health care organizations, we worked collaboratively to provide health services to the uninsured and underinsured in the metropolitan area. Nevertheless, thousands of low-income people were not, and are still not, accessing needed health care.

When the opportunity came along for Oklahoma to accept Medicaid expansion for 180,000 low-income, uninsured Oklahomans, it seemed a dream come true. Morally, it was the right thing to do. Others argued that it's the right thing to do for the economic benefit of the state. First, a coalition of business and political leadership in Tulsa urged the state to accept the increase in federal Medicaid funds. The chairman of the Tulsa chamber's health care task force said, “The economic benefits of providing health insurance to thousands of Oklahomans and creating demand for many more health professionals in the state will result in more state revenue than the program will cost.” Richard Boone, president of St. John Medical Center Foundation in Tulsa, said, “This is the best economic development deal the state has seen in decades.”

More recently, a panel of local economists was invited to address the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. Panel member Mickey Hepner, dean of the University of Central Oklahoma College of Business, told the chamber, “We just turned away additional money that could've generated billions of dollars of economic growth in this state.” Hepner said, “From an anti-poverty perspective, that was a mistake. From an economic development perspective, it was an incredible mistake. It was an incredible opportunity that was wasted.”

Who is Gov. Mary Fallin listening to? And why?

Sam Bowman, Oklahoma City