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June 5, 2020

All Oklahomans deserve access to affordable healthcare, which is why the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) supports State Question 802 to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma.

Although the primary mission of the Nation’s Department of Health is to serve MCN citizens and Native Americans, our healthcare model is unique. MCN also provides healthcare services to non-Native Oklahomans at our Okmulgee and Okemah hospitals, serving as a critical safety net for rural communities.

Passing SQ 802 will not only make families healthier, but could bring nearly a billion of our tax dollars home to Oklahoma.  The economic impact for MCN alone is estimated to be $9 million annually.

MCN’s tribal health system receives some funding through Indian Health Service, but it is well below the level of need for patients. Citizens who require care outside of our system are sometimes left with the difficult decision of feeding their family or receiving medical treatment.

Further, to reduce overall costs of healthcare, we have to start curbing health disparities among Native American populations in the state.  Our citizens experience high rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and infant mortality, and Oklahoma’s overall health ranking remains bleak – 46th in the nation according to America’s Health Rankings. Studies have shown that access to quality and affordable care leads to improved health outcomes and healthier generations of Oklahomans.

Helping close the coverage gap among Native Americans in Oklahoma is the right thing to do, but it is also financially beneficial to Oklahoma.  The federal government pays 100 percent of the care for a Native American Medicaid patient at a tribal facility, compared to 60 percent payment for non-Natives.  An estimated 13 percent of Oklahoma’s population is Native American, so the benefit adds up quickly.

A “Yes” vote on SQ 802 alleviates significant and unnecessary financial losses at both rural and tribal hospitals. Over the last two years, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Health has contributed $5 million in uncompensated care to non-Natives in our communities.

Oklahoma tax dollars would stay in our state and be spent in our local economy. Currently, we are funding healthcare for the 36 participating states instead of helping our own citizens and healthcare facilities.  Rural hospitals in Oklahoma are shutting down at alarming rates because patients cannot afford to pay for their care. This results in lost jobs, devastates rural communities and strains the state’s economy.

Nearly 200,000 Oklahomans and an estimated 11,000 MCN citizens and American Indian patients in our healthcare system would have health insurance under SQ 802. Expanded coverage of our patients also benefits Tulsa because more of our patient referrals to tertiary care facilities will be insured.  In fact, hospitals that have care coordination agreements with tribes can receive 100 percent in federal funding for tribal Medicaid patients.

It will create jobs and allow us to invest in people, services, life-saving treatment and equipment. Tribes have built much of the recent rural healthcare infrastructure in Oklahoma.  In 2018, MCN invested $55 million in a state-of-the art, critical access hospital and clinic in Okemah to serve tribal citizens and the community. Continued investment will only be possible through expanded coverage and keeping dollars in Oklahoma.

The current model is simply unsustainable for our Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens and Oklahomans. We believe that by uniting resources and building partnerships, federal, state and tribal governments can come together to improve Oklahoma’s health outcomes and provide Native Americans and all Oklahomans with greater healthcare opportunities.

In short, a yes vote helps people and the economy, something Oklahoma needs now more than ever.

Shawn Terry

Secretary of Health, Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Shawn Terry is Secretary of Health for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which is the fourth-largest tribe in the U.S. and headquartered in Okmulgee Okla. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Health operates 6 clinics and a physical rehabilitation center serving tribal citizens.  MCNDH also provides inpatient and emergency services in Okmulgee and Okemah to both Native and Non-Native patients through its community hospitals and long-term acute care facility.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation owns all rights to this image and releases it to the Tulsa World for publication.