Oklahoma is currently facing a crisis of rural hospital closures, and the outbreak of COVID-19 simply puts additional stress on a fragile system. Countless Oklahomans face hours-long drives to hospitals as well as a shortage of primary care doctors. To further complicate this issue, many of our fellow Oklahomans also lack sufficient health insurance. This means that when life takes a turn for the worst, many go bankrupt trying to pay their hospital bill. Because of this, our rural hospitals also face incredible financial strain as they try to stay afloat and save lives while paying for care that was not reimbursed. When these hospitals close, hundreds of patients lose access to healthcare, and hundreds of people lose their jobs.
Although these hospitals do get modest financial support from the state as well as the federal government, it cannot match its expenses from care that patients just cannot afford. It is for this reason that I urge all of you to vote ‘YES’ on State Question 802 on June 30th. Passing SQ 802 allows Oklahoma to accept Medicaid expansion, extending Medicaid health insurance coverage to adults who make up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Expanding this critical program infuses billions of federal dollars into Oklahoma’s economy, and it will help bolster our rural hospitals by decreasing the amount of money they spend on unreimbursed care. With this money, they can improve their resources and improve their workforce.
Our rural hospitals are now on the front lines of COVID-19. They act as some of the biggest employers in their areas, and they are a lifeline to people facing healthcare crises. We cannot allow them to shutter when patients and employees are relying on them the most. If these hospitals must close, the repercussions will last far longer than COVID-19.
We can and we will make it through this crisis, but we must ensure that we have a robust and fully functional healthcare system so that all Oklahomans in need of care can get access to it.