Not long ago I came across this quote which read, “America is a place whose destiny has been made more prosperous by providing its people ladders of opportunity.” That quote resonated with me, for we all, I think, have an obligation to embrace the outstretched hands of those in need, to provide those on the margins of society a hand up and not a hand out and to make our communities safer, better and more just.
From its beginning, Saint Francis Health System was charged to be an organization of the highest quality and a ministry of healing founded upon generosity and compassion. Saint Francis’ actions, deeds and work is and will always be guided by its mission of “extending Christ’s healing ministry.” Its work shall likewise always be shaped and informed by the Church’s tradition and legacy of demonstrating a preferential option for the poor. Saint Francis Health System must at all times embrace and espouse values, policies and programs that promote community, service to others and the common good.
Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey once said that the moral test of any government was how “[that government] treated those in the dawn of life (its children); those in the twilight of life (the elderly) and those in the shadows of life (the sick, the needy and the handicapped).” Extending healthcare coverage to the most vulnerable among us is, in my view, a core responsibility of government and has long been the position voiced by Catholic healthcare providers across our nation.
Of the many provisions contained within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, none have been more scrutinized and deemed more controversial than those relating to Medicaid expansion. It was on November 19 Governor Fallin announced that Oklahoma would neither expand its Medicaid program nor establish its own health insurance exchange. Saint Francis Health System was disappointed by the Governor’s decision.
Decisions concerning expansion of Medicaid ought not be viewed solely as a healthcare issue. Expansion of Oklahoma’s Medicaid program (or any state’s Medicaid program) is a substantial economic issue and one that will have numerous implications on Oklahoma families, Oklahoma businesses, nursing homes, hospitals and insurance providers across the state. Expansion of the SoonerCare program would have extended coverage to as many as 180,000 currently uninsured Oklahomans and in doing so, significantly reduced the state’s already high uninsured rate (an estimated 18.6 percent of the state’s population).
It has been well documented that states with the poorest public health are those with the highest uninsured rates. And like the Governor, I feel much should be done to improve the overall health status of our state. That said, expansion of Medicaid and execution of Governor Fallin’s “Oklahoma Plan,” however defined, ought not be viewed as mutually exclusive; rather they should be viewed as complementary to one another, that if pursued concurrently, could do much to reverse Oklahoma’s poor health status nationally.
Expansion of Medicaid is not a handout. It is an opportunity to meaningfully impact the lives of the most vulnerable among us — the elderly, the poor and our children. Notwithstanding the state’s decision this past November, it is my hope that members of the state legislature will demonstrate a sincere willingness to engage in objective debate on this matter — not on the basis of political ideology, but on the basis of facts. Service to the poor, promotion of community, service to others and notably, growth in the economy — these are the values of not just Catholic healthcare providers but of Oklahomans.
Jake Henry Jr.
President/Chief Executive Officer
Saint Francis Health System