Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sensible Solutions

Sensible solutions and partisan politics often collide. And the time may be right for just that to happen in regard to Oklahoma health care policy. When health care organizations and participants in the Oklahoma Academy’s Town Hall agree with Gov. Brad Henry and Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland that now is the time to create affordable health insurance for all Oklahomans, it is a good bet that something is about to happen.

Almost 20% of Oklahomans have no health insurance. A recent study conducted by Citizens Policy Center (CPC) economist Dr. Cindy Decker confirmed that it would take about $700 million a year in public, employer and worker dollars to plug the gap. That’s a lot of money. Yet having so many Oklahomans without health insurance is costing us much more.

The CPC study found that the uninsured already cost the state more than $1 billion annually in lost productivity and leave us with a severe cost-shifting problem. The uninsured, as a last resort, are often limited to seeking care in the most expensive part of the medical system - the hospital emergency room.

Holland has teamed up with the OU College of Public Health to hold a series of “health insurance summits” to find practical solutions, and Gov. Henry was re-elected in part because he advocates bi-partisan, pragmatic solutions to problems.

Among his major first term initiatives was the establishment of the Insure Oklahoma program, which makes health insurance more affordable for working families and employers. Under the Insure Oklahoma program, participating employers and employees pay a portion of their health insurance premiums with the state picking up the rest of the tab. The state pays 60 percent of the cost, employers pay 25 percent and employees pay 15 percent. For every dollar the state invests in the program, it receives approximately two dollars in matching federal money.

Although Insure Oklahoma needs some work and doesn’t begin to solve the whole problem, it does illustrate how to approach the rest of the fix. Any future public policy on the issue should be developed in a bi-partisan manner, respect our market-based health care system and expand health care coverage to our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Insuring the state’s uninsured children would be a good place to start. Secondly, the state should move rapidly to insure that it receives the maximum reimbursement for its Medicaid population. We should also make a firm commitment to significantly reduce the number of uninsured in our state in the next three to five years. These are lofty, but achievable goals.

As the state begins to embrace these goals, it should move to assure that state employees, our Medicaid population, the insured population, and any program that currently addresses the uninsured, has a system to control the variation that currently exists in medical care. This could be done by the adoption and strong use of evidence-based medicine to control over-utilization of expensive health care services, which is the main driver of health care costs.

The Oklahoma Hospital Association, including Integris Health, supports legislation requiring a health care provider fee to substantially increase the amount of funding our state receives in Medicaid dollars. Integris Health is also involved in the Fit Kids Coalition, an effort to improve the health of children and teach them healthy lifestyles that will reduce future health problems among our youth.

Oklahoma needs to develop innovative, market based health care reforms that meet our state’s particular needs. We need to find pragmatic ways to continue to expand access, educate citizens about healthy lifestyles, and motivate business and government to seek ways to leverage all of the existing health care dollars most wisely.

We can do this. Sensible solutions should be developed for providing health care access for all Oklahomans. Our high rate of uninsured citizens is hampering economic development and taking its toll on all of our wallets. Let’s put our state’s can-do attitude to work in this Centennial Year and make our next 100 years healthier and more productive for our citizens, our businesses and our state.

Stanley F. Hupfeld is President and CEO of Integris Health and a Citizens Policy Center board member.

No comments: