The leaders of the special, bicameral Healthcare Working Group say the group’s work is about more than Medicaid expansion, and even urged lawmakers to set aside questions about government expense for the time being.
“It is not just about health care. It is not just about doctors and hospitals and insurance companies,” said Sen. Greg McCortney, an Ada Republican who co-chairs the committee. “This is about the fact that the state of Oklahoma is one of the least healthy states in the nation. It’s about the fact that in my area of the state, you are expected to live many years less than the average American. And it’s about the fact that that is unacceptable. And so we are here to do nothing short than to try to figure out how to solve those problems.
“Yes, how you pay for it is a huge part of that,” McCortney continued. “But that’s not the only problem we have. We have fundamental problems in how we take care of ourselves, and some of those are problems that the government can take care of, and some of them aren’t. Some of them are private decisions, and we’re never going to get into those private decisions. But there are things that we can do as a state, as policymakers, to increase the lifespan of our people, to make sure that mothers don’t die while giving birth at a higher rate than other states. We can do those things, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
Rep. Marcus McEntire, a Duncan Republican who is also a co-chair of the group, said health care was “one of the main reasons I ran for office,” and echoed McCortney’s comments.
“Most of the time we start with a question regarding health care. We talk about costs,” McEntire said. “And so everything is driven by that question. How much does it cost? How can we afford it? It’s an important question, like Senator McCortney alluded to, but the question that we’re asking here is, ‘How do we make Oklahoma a healthier place?’ How do we get Oklahomans to take control of their own health care and take responsibility for their health care? Because it’s really the patient’s responsibility, right? We know with demonstrable data that if you eat chicken fried steak four times a week, you’re probably going to have a heart attack, right?”
McCortney and McEntire have been the leading Republican proponents of expanding Oklahoma’s Medicaid program to add up to 628,000 able-bodied adults to the welfare program at an estimated cost to Oklahoma state taxpayers of as much as $374 million annually.
But during Wednesday’s meeting, the first for the Healthcare Working Group, they indicated the committee’s work will be broader in scope.
“The question we’re asking here, today, is how do we make Oklahoma healthier and how do we get Oklahomans to take charge of their own health care?” McEntire said. “So with that, I hope that will guide our discussions. We’ll worry about cost when it’s time to worry about cost. But let’s dream a little bit and think outside of what we normally think of in this building, and try to figure this thing out and do something that’s positive for this state where we’re not ranked 47th in health outcomes anymore.”
Oklahoma Deputy Secretary of Health Carter Kimble, one of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s appointees to the working group, said the goal is “to empower Oklahomans, their communities and their families, to reach a peak state of wellness.”
McCortney suggested the group’s final recommendations may prove controversial.
“It’s going to take a tremendous amount of courage to come out with the recommendations that may not be popular, but they may be right,” McCortney said.