I don’t want to announce victory in the earliest stages of a long fight, but I’m encouraged by the steps taken so far to deal with the uninsured in Oklahoma.
Baby steps, to be sure, but steps nonetheless.
The Oklahoma Department of Insurance is soliciting input from around the state about health care priorities and needs to present to a task force that may draft a core benefits plan for residents.
I know, I know … reports, task forces, blue ribbon committees … shuffle paper here, shuffle paper there, talk a lot and change little — at least that’s how I often perceive them.
Under the clever name of Oklahoma CHAT (Choosing Healthplans All Together), Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland plans to collect information from 31 communities across the state using the CHAT computer simulation.
“The CHAT program will assess how people prioritize what health benefits are important to them when the resources are insufficient to purchase every type of coverage,” according to a news release.
I imagine the research has already been done to some extent, but the way this appears to be designed looks genuine to me.
Now, maybe I’m uncritically giving up my skepticism. After all, solving the problem of the social and economic toll of the state’s 600,000 uninsured won’t happen over night. But, I figure, from where else than a state with a glaring, vexing problem will an innovative solution arise?
OK, Massachusetts notwithstanding.
They have beaten us to common-sense health insurance reform, but I consider the South more of a peer group.
I guess I’ve concluded that philosophical differences should not keep us from doing something; that what we do doesn’t have to break the bank and may even save money, again, philosophical differences aside; and that some sort of mandatory enrollment in some sort of plan, while it goes against my libertarian sympathies, will be needed.
Just like with 401K plans, people, even those of adequate means, won’t choose to participate in sufficient numbers for society at large to gain unless at least nudged that way, if not pushed.
At this point, I know the reform movement is more of a Doolittle Raid than an Iwo Jima, but acknowledging something must be done, even if we can’t agree on what, is a step in the right direction. And the sponsors of Holland’s project are an impressive bunch that includes Integris Health, the OU College of Public Health, the Oklahoma Hospital Association, the Oklahoma State Department of Health and The State Chamber of Oklahoma.
Strange bedfellows? Maybe. Or maybe not. It depends how you look it at.
The press conference is Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in the Governor’s Blue Room at the Capitol.
In March, a group called Health Alliance for the Uninsured bemoaned the number of uninsured who turn to emergency rooms because free clinics were full. Or just turned to emergency rooms for basic care, which is costly in time and money and is hugely wasteful in terms of hospital utilization.
“Our 16 free clinics are overwhelmed and do not have the resources they need,” Dr. Murali Krishna, chairman of the alliance and president of Integris Mental Health, said at the time. “That leaves the uninsured with no choice but to go to the emergency room for routine medical care.”
A study presented then showed 53 percent of emergency room visits in Oklahoma County were for nonemergency symptoms.
Among clinics’ problems are getting specialists to volunteer, finding free- or low-cost drugs and locating radiology services.
Because of its location, St. Anthony Hospital deals with a number of poor, transient patients. As such, it has received assistance to put together a system to find these people a “medical home” so that they visit a general practitioner for routine care rather than the emergency room. For a patient with an HMO policy, this is a given. For the uninsured, it’s innovative, at least for Oklahoma.
I haven’t followed up on the project for some time, but it has intrigued me from the start. Will it work? I aim to find out.
As always, please e-mail me or comment on this blog. If you agree, disagree or think I’ve gone off the deep end, let me know one way or the other.