Nearly 700,000 Oklahoma residents are currently without insurance, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute . Where will they be when the mandated expansion of Medicaid in 2014 by the Affordable Care Act goes into place throughout most of the nation -- but not in Oklahoma due to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin's decision for the state to opt out ? If the governor stands firm in her commitment for Oklahoma to neither participate in the expansion of the Medicaid program to include low income people or the creation of a state-based health insurance exchange, it's likely the uninsured will continue to form lines at the free clinics dotted around the state.
"Free" Clinics Not Free to Taxpayers
Oklahoma has a fair number of free clinics for a state with many rural areas; more than 125 free clinics can be found throughout the state. But "free" is a misnomer; someone pays the fees for the services provided to the individuals who find themselves in the waiting rooms of these clinics. Some clinics provide service without any fee to the patient, others base fees on income; either way, there is still a shortfall of patient money to pay for services rendered.
And not all of the more than 125 free clinics in the state provide medical services, or provide general medical services. Some clinics are dedicated solely to mental health and/or drug rehabilitation, some are for women's health services only. Vision and dental service in free clinics can be difficult to find and just as difficult to obtain.
Nearly 700,000 Oklahomans must rely on service from these available free clinics; that averages to approximately 5,600 patients per clinic.
Not Everyone is on Board with Fallin's Decision about Medicaid Expansion
State Rep. Doug Cox , R-District 5, is an emergency room physician and chair of the A&B Public Health and Social Services committee in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Cox authored an impassioned article that appeared Jan. 15 in the Norman Transcript explaining the need for Oklahoma to participate in the upcoming Medicaid expansion in 2014.
Cox cited the fact that the Medicaid expansion would be cost-free to the state for the first two years, then $27 million in 2017 and $56 million by 2020, costs Cox says the state can afford. He also explained that contrary to so many people's beliefs, the expansion of Medicaid coverage would not be deadbeats, but individuals and families whose income comes from low-wage jobs that don't provide insurance coverage.
The TahlequahDailyPress.com reported Monday that elected officials from that area, Rep. Mike Brown , D-Tahlequah, and Sen. Earl Garrison , D-Muskogee, both support the state's involvement in the upcoming Medicaid expansion. Garrison questioned the governor's consideration of a bond issue to repair the capitol at the same time essentially ignoring the needs of the uninsured.
Many of those who favor Oklahoma being on line for Medicaid expansion in 2014 express misgivings about the Affordable Care Act, but accept that it is now the law of the land. Oklahoma's residents, the hard-working individuals and families who cannot at present afford health insurance coverage, deserve the option of the expanded Medicaid coverage that residents in most every other state will be enjoying. Thank goodness the free clinics have been and are still available for those who require their services, but Oklahomans deserve better when it is available -- as it will be next year.
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