| February 26, 2013

'If we just expand our current system, it doesn't solve the problem'

To expand or not to expand. That is all too often the question when it comes to government action. All too often bureaucrats joyfully answer, “Expand!” — resulting in more and more of our money going to a failing status quo.

A recent choice by our state has been whether to expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. OCPA was pleased with the decision not to expand the program, saving Oklahoma taxpayers at least $500 million between now and 2020. As we have written time and time and time again, the answer to Oklahoma’s Medicaid problem is not a lack of spending, it’s a lack of reform.

In a recent interview, Dr. Terry L. Cline, who serves as the Oklahoma Secretary of Health and Human Services and as the Commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, made the case for reform of Oklahoma's broken Medicaid and health care system. Some excerpts:

There are people who say our health care system is a sick care system. That's the way it's structured. All of our money is going into that. If we just expand our current system, it doesn't solve the problem.

Let me give you an example. We're sitting here in the Health Sciences Center. We have the highest concentration of health care in the state of Oklahoma all around us … hundreds of doctors, hundreds of nurses, numerous hospitals. Anyone can access services here because it's a sliding-scale fee. This is a teaching hospital environment. It's already being subsidized by the state.

But if we go two blocks over, I can show you some of the worst health outcomes in the entire state. Two blocks. The infant mortality rate is twice as high as it is two miles in the other direction. If the answer is just increasing access to health care, then why do all these individuals who are living within walking distance have the worst health outcomes?

I've had my share of medical care, and I'm grateful for that. It's very important. It is one piece of the picture. But right now, it's 99 percent of the funding, and our current expansion discussions don't address the true problems with the system.

All the dollars in our system go to pick up the pieces, and frankly there's not enough money. We're ranked 49th in the country in the number of primary care physicians. If all of a sudden we give everyone in the state an insurance card, is that going to change? Not necessarily.

Dr. Cline is correct: expanding and pumping billions of dollars more into a broken system will not fix it. If Oklahoma’s Medicaid program were to be expanded under Obamacare, it would end up costing the taxpayers much more and would likely lead to fewer healthcare options for many Oklahomans. Instead of pursuing a broken status quo, let’s begin the process of reforming and refining our Medicaid program and health care system into one that is actually patient-centered and puts people on the path to success and independence.

By Derek Osborn

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