If you don’t know, the healthcare system in our state and in our country isn’t perfect. I know, shocker. We have problems in the system like limited access to healthcare, concentrated health care resources, lack of appropriate funding and lack of educational resources.
You also may realize that Oklahoma does not rank well when it comes to being a healthy state. A review of our state health department’s state health report will reveal that as of 2014 we received an F in overall mortality with the highest rate for death in heart disease, stroke and are near the top in death from diabetes and near the top in obesity rates. Almost 20% of our state’s residents don’t have insurance coverage and about 1 in 6 Oklahomans live in poverty. Most of those living in poverty and many of those without insurance are our state’s women and young adults.
We know that individuals without medical insurance have poorer access to healthcare and overall worse health in general. They visit the ER more often as uninsured individuals don’t have the ability to access preventative health or have a primary care physician they can see when they have a minor illness or need an urgent visit. The uninsured with disease are more likely to have it diagnosed at a later stage and develop complications that result in long term harm or death due to their lack of healthcare.
The debate about what to do with our large uninsured population has been going on for over 2 decades. Not many are willing to claim it isn’t alarming. But most of us can’t agree on what to do about it. Our state has failed to pass a tobacco tax and a plan to expand medicaid; we have not found a reliable way to allow small businesses to provide insurance to their employees and we have left undone the poor, the widow and the orphan in our state. The Affordable Care Act has helped some in Oklahoma but certainly is not the perfect solution to this broken system. The reality is that healthcare is expensive. Layers of administration and bureaucracy contribute to this. A culture that says we must have the best drug or test and we must get it right away contributes to this. We don’t have good programs to promote health and wellness, physically or mentally. As our state gets more sick, the cost to care for our state goes up. But just because we don’t have the perfect solution doesn’t mean we can check out and ignore this huge problem.
Last week I had the privilege of staffing the Variety OB clinic, our Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) here in OKC. I always leave these days with the distinct feeling that although my life is radically different in economics and culture than almost every patient I encounter there, I have shared experiences with them having been pregnant and being a mom. In the end, we are all bound by the common denominator of the shared experiences of our health. It is almost overwhelming to think about the disparities I encounter when I walk into each room. My friend and former partner in practice Lydia is the director of women’s health at Variety Care. They are a safety net clinic. The clinic provides healthcare to those who cannot afford to go elsewhere. She is working hard to make affordable and accessible healthcare a dream come true for our state. Every week she sees this problem lived out. She sees patients choosing between picking up their antibiotics for their infection or buying groceries for their families. She sees women with advanced stage breast and gynecologic cancers that are no longer curable due to a lack of access to care. These women, with proper access to care would have had a great chance for cure. When her patients don’t show up for appointments she knows that it’s probably not because they don’t care but because they have limited access to transportation or childcare, or they work in a job with no paid time off.
So what are we to do about this enormous problem? I think the first step is to understand that if you have access to good healthcare resources that there are literally thousands of men, women and children who are desperate for that access. If we only care about spiritual health and ignore the physical health of the community around us we are missing the point. When you visit your healthcare provider know that you and I are among the privileged and recognize that this problem is a problem that belongs to all of us. Not just if you are an Oklahoman like me; but no matter where you live. The next step is to begin to advocate for the community around you. Ignore the voice in your head that says something is good or bad based on the political party that endorses it. Be a voice for those without a voice in the system. Donate to your local community health clinic, speak to your legislator, vote with a heart that believes you should decrease so that those around you may increase. Have eyes that see the hurting, the hungry and the sick around you.
And let the image that your eyes see move your heart to speak up and show up for the least of these.