State legislators convened for the first meeting of a bipartisan working group aimed at finding solutions to increase access to health care and providing insurance coverage for more citizens.
House Speaker Charles McCall compared the group to the one held to discuss implementation of medical marijuana last summer.
“The State Question 788 working group was successful because it brought everyone together and let everyone have a voice,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “Healthcare is a very complex issue, and there is no cookie-cutter approach that is going to drive down costs, improve care and increase access. It is going to take a comprehensive, multifaceted approach that considers not just what is wrong with the system but also what is working, and also what has worked and not worked in other states. That means we need to bring everyone together – patients, providers, policy experts, insurance carriers, facilities and state agencies – and find a way forward.”
Senator Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, was one of 20 state senators and representatives to bring their perspective to the topic.
Leading up to the first meeting, Quinn voiced optimism that the bipartisan group would be able to reach workable solutions increasing the efficiency of Oklahoma healthcare without significantly increasing cost.
“There is an earnest desire to find solutions,” Quinn said. “But at the same time we have to be responsible.”
Responsibility, in this case, means not accepting a financial burden the state is not prepared to meet, Quinn said.
“There is plenty of evidence from a number of states that have done Medicaid expansion. They’ve accepted federal dollars, and at the end of the day, even with a 90/10 match, it wasn’t enough to cover the expansion that they put in place,” he said. “While we are open to seeing if we can better the system in some way, we also have to be responsible and make sure that able-bodied citizens are not taking advantage of the system.”
The group met for the first time Wednesday morning, largely to set the parameters and guidelines for discussion over the following weeks. At this point, there are still more questions than answers when it comes to the issues and possible solutions that will be addressed.
Quinn highlighted options that would improve the cost efficiency of the current system as opposed to those that rely on federal funds to expand the number of people on a public health insurance plan.
“My focus is going to be on how much money we are spending on this program as a state,” Quinn said. “Are we spending that money efficiently or inefficiently?”
As an example of inefficiency, Quinn highlighted a large number of low-income, uninsured and under-insured individuals who go to the emergency room any time they have a medical issue.
Quinn said that investing in education and incentives to show the public the appropriate place for them to seek healthcare would save the state money on costly emergency room visits.
These changes are necessary, not only to improve the healthcare constituents receive, but also to reduce the state’s financial reliance on a cash-strapped federal government, Quinn said.
“Our national debt is almost at $23 trillion. By 2025, the interest on the national debt will be a trillion dollars a year. They are not going to be able to continue to pay 90/10,” Quinn said. “If we’re able to come to an agreement on the issue, we have to understand that those numbers that we’re using now, that 90/10, those are not going to be the numbers we will be using three to five years from now.”
“It would be irresponsible of us to look at expanding the system before we looked at making the system more efficient,” Quinn said.