The Edmond Sun

November 29, 2012

Partisan politics does not solve Medicaid crisis

Phil G. Busey Sr.
Consider This

EDMOND — The presidential election ushered in a new paradigm in American politics. Once discounted, underserved, minority, disenfranchised groups wield power as coalitions. Status quo gives way to new, inclusive change. Politicians need pay attention. Going forward, championing solutions for our country’s challenges together is a viable course.

Ronald Reagan and Tipp O’Neill amiably worked out their differences for long-term solutions. Oklahoma leaders can do the same with the administration. However, following the election our leaders may be stuck in old partisan ways overlooking possibilities for different governing approaches. We need unbiased willingness to compromise for solutions for all Americans. Not just those perceived as a candidate’s base. As Abraham Lincoln demonstrated, doing the right thing and compromise will build consensus despite political unpopularity — leaders willing to consider compromise can prevail.

Gov. Mary Fallin denied expansion of the Medcaid program and rejected a state health care exchange under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, turning down billions of federal funds. How is this a longer-term view? Oklahoma suffers dire need of health care reforms. Alone, state costs will be immense. Accepting the funds offers a fiscal basis to craft viable solutions. For Republicans, this decision emphasizes a perception of alienating the underserved at the worst time. Expansion could extend coverage to more than 180,000 low-income Oklahomans — including 50,000 children. Now, what for them?

Since elected, the governor opposed “Obamacare,” but stepping back and utilizing available funds offers opportunity. What are the options and plan? Hopefully, the program is not being rejected primarily for political reasons. Regardless, the effect is polarizing. Unintentionally, too many believe they do not count. The governor cited, “unmanageable costs for Oklahoma.” However, this begs a bigger, ongoing issue; Oklahoma has more than 600,000 uninsured at an annual cost of  $1 billion. Hospitals will bear added costs.   

When the governor and Speaker Kris Steele accepted, then inexplicably refused $54 million of federal funds for an exchange, it foretold this decision. The rhetoric of private and public support offered as a prospect to fund an exchange evaporated. Did the governor roll political dice assuming Mitt Romney would win the White House and the health care act would be overturned? This conviction clouded a broader focus. Partisan politics cannot trump the shared care of citizens. The specter of prior decisions may have fueled this reaction.

Lincoln, against his Cabinet’s advice, knew enacting the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 would not be politically popular, but it was right. There is no comparing his monumental act to this in scope. However, for Oklahomans left out of Medicaid coverage the impact is severe. Lincoln’s courage illustrates the value of “leadership” in putting politics aside. Hopefully, the governor will demonstrate a similar courage. Taking care of the least of us matters much morally.

Significantly, Medicaid expansion actually provides 100 percent of the cost during the first three years and 90 percent thereafter until 2020 to be paid by the federal government. Risk is diminished, leaving ample time to enact broader reforms. The overall problems don’t square with the governor’s financial argument. Taking a higher road putting politics aside offers a new opportunity for unity.

PHIL G. BUSEY SR., an Edmond resident, is CEO and chairman of The Busey Group of Companies.