It comes as little surprise that The Oklahoman’s editorial board decided to write in support of congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
What’s surprising, however, is that the editorial author attempted to argue that access to women’s health services might actually improve if such funding is directed to community health centers instead.
(For full disclosure, I worked for an Oklahoma community health center over a period of about six years. I still teach occasional Mental Health First Aid classes for that organization, which is called Variety Care. That entity also serves as my personal medical home for comprehensive primary care.)
So to read about The Oklahoman’s tangential support for community health centers — and the broad populations they serve — is positive.
It just doesn’t seem congruent with so many other health care arguments that the paper’s editorial board makes.
Sudden and convenient support
In February 2016, The Oklahoman’s editorial board offered a most-ludicrous screed arguing that the state’s health care entities would have been worse off had Gov. Mary Fallin and the Legislature accepted federal funding to provide low-income adults health insurance.
And, in December, the same editorial board doubled down on that message by criticizing how states that had expanded Medicaid with those federal dollars have seen higher-than-expected costs. (As if road and bridge repairs never come in above budget … .)
But The Oklahoman’s sudden and convenient support for community health centers this week clashes irreparably with its past and ongoing opposition to expanding low-income insurance coverage in the state.
Non-profit community health centers — also called federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) for those who aren’t afraid of the f-word — would be some of the greatest beneficiaries of any Oklahoma plan that accepted federal Medicaid-expansion money. FQHCs are required to see any patient, regardless of insurance status. They are required to offer a board-established sliding-fee scale for uninsured patients, and they use Medicaid and private insurance reimbursements to balance out the costs of providing primary care visits for, say, $30.
All of that is to say that community health centers — and hospitals, for that matter — would be far better off financially if more of the low-income patients they see were to have Medicaid or some private-plan subsidy version as is offered in Arkansas.
Health leaders and business leaders have been saying this for the past six years, but political leaders haven’t listened. A plan to “rebalance” Oklahoma’s Medicaid program never gained the necessary momentum last legislative session, and, as a result, community health centers and hospitals have remained in cost-trimming modes while trying to care for indigent populations that lack basic health insurance.
So while congressional leaders will do whatever they will do regarding Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, Oklahomans deserve an honest conversation about what would help the state’s community health centers.
The Oklahoman’s editorial board continues to fail on that front.