By Darla Shelden
Oklahoma native son and former State Senator Andrew Rice and his family have returned to Oklahoma City. Rice now serves as the new executive director of the Variety Care Foundation.
In September, Rice began working to help expand philanthropic support and community awareness for Variety Care, Oklahoma’s largest community health center.
“It became clear that we would probably be coming back because my wife wasn’t happy in her job in Nashville,” said Rice. “Variety Care was looking for a new executive director. They got in touch with me and it felt like a perfect fit.”
Variety Care is a non-profit community health center with locations in Oklahoma City, Del City, Tipton, Fort Cobb and Grandfield.
“This is an incredible opportunity to be part of a dynamic non-profit that improves the lives of 50,000 Oklahomans every year,” Rice said. “I am thrilled to let even more people understand how Variety Care changes lives, lowers system costs, keeps Oklahomans out of emergency rooms and casts an eye to the future for expanded access across our local community as well as remote, rural towns.”
Through their recent Capital Campaign, Variety Care has added expanded services and capacity to see about 15,000 more patients a year.
When asked how Gov. Fallins’ decision to opt out of Medicaid expansion will affect the healthcare system he said, “It will have a terrible fiscal impact on all of healthcare, but particularly community health centers like us. Our setup is unique where a big part of our clients are uninsured, about half, and we have a sliding pay scale situation.”
According to a report by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, President Obama’s $1 trillion plan to expand Medicaid would raise state costs by only 3 percent and extend health coverage to more than 21 million low-income people as part of the new healthcare reform law.
“When you have people who are uninsured they get very sick and go to the hospital where it’s much more expensive later on in their illness,” he said. “It’s terrible for the system and that individual in numerous ways.”
In 2011, more than 50,000 Oklahomans came to Variety Care for comprehensive primary medical, dental, vision, behavioral and WIC (Women, infant and Children) nutrition care.
“We have this new part of the population, people at the poverty level or up to 100 percent of the poverty level that don’t have children, who would have had insurance,” said Rice. “That incentivizes them to see a primary care physician and get into what we call our medical home. They have the same physician that they see each visit, who manages their chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.”
A United Way partner agency, Variety Care serves patients with and without insurance.
“Having them covered through Medicaid expansion is the moral thing to do, but it’s more importantly the fiscally responsible thing to do,” said Rice. “To get them coverage and into primary care situations like ours could save the system so much money. We could have a healthier workforce.”
States would spend an extra $76 billion over the next decade to implement the Medicaid expansion, or 2.9 percent more than they would without the reform law. The federal government would spend more than $950 billion to cover nearly all of the costs, the Kaiser report said.
“It’s frankly astounding that Gov. Fallin made that decision,” Rice said. “She’s essentially turned away huge amounts of resources for the third largest industry in the state, which is the healthcare industry. I don’t think she would have done that for the oil and gas industry or the aerospace industry.”
Rice continued, “The federal government will now administer the exchange and I’m confident it will be an applicable and comprehensive marketplace for people to get policies. From 100 percent to 400 percent of the poverty level, they will have subsidies to buy private plans. It’s that zero percent to 100 percent that was supposed to be covered under the Medicaid expansion that is this unintentional and ironic coverage crater, as David Blatt (Oklahoma Policy Institute) calls it. They won’t get a subsidy for private insurance, but they won’t be eligible for Medicaid.
“One of the points of the Affordable Care Act was to cover these very costly parts of the population. Unless Congress comes through with some kind of correction legislation, this group is going to be uncovered.”
Rice feels there is still time to persuade Gov. Fallin to change her mind, saying, “There’s a coalition forming with the Hospital association, the Chambers of Commerce, the Primary Care Association, mental health groups, and health centers. They want to persuade the Governor and legislative leaders that this is an unacceptable decision, from economic terms. A lot of groups were really caught off guard that the Gov. would make this announcement so soon without conferring with any of them.
“The beauty of Variety Care is that our patients who are underserved and have many barriers, are getting easy access to high quality health care at a very affordable rate,” said Rice.
When asked about future political plans Rice said, “If I ever ran for anything again, it would be after my kids are grown. I’m really happy to be working in the non-profit sector right now.”
For more information visit www.varietycare.org