Fallin’s aunt, 85-year-old Dorthea Copeland, runs a free health clinic in Pottawatomie County, an area of Oklahoma that has an 18 percent poverty rate and a 28 percent uninsurance rate. Copeland’s clinic provides care for the Oklahomans who fall into the coverage gap between earning too little to be able to purchase private insurance and earning too much to qualify for Medicaid assistance — the same group of people who stand to gain coverage under Obamacare’s expansion of the public program.
But since Copeland’s niece has refused to raise the Medicaid program’s eligibility level, the clinic is currently overloaded with low-income patients who don’t currently qualify for government assistance. As Oklahoma Watch reports, Copeland’s volunteer staff — who served over 850 patients last year — are now struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for health services:
On any given Thursday evening, about 20 people pitch in. But it’s not quite enough to keep up with rising demand. On this night, five people will be told they’ll need to wait at least a week to see a doctor.
“It’s getting worse all the time,” says Ty Johnson, who shows up every week to handle patient intake. She bustles about the crowded clinic with a clipboard, calling out names and handing out paperwork. “We’re getting more and more people.”
Not everyone makes the cut. To qualify, patients must be Pottawatomie County residents, must have no other form of insurance coverage and must fall below income caps that are considerably lower than those contained in the Obama expansion plan.
“There is just more need than we can handle,” says Stephanie Scrutchins, who determines eligibility.
Under Oklahoma’s current law, families can’t get Medicaid coverage unless they have dependent children and their annual income falls below $6,996 for a family of four — one of the lowest eligibility thresholds in the nation. The health law seeks to expand the program to include families of four earning up to $30,656 each year. But Fallin says it would be too costly to add additional low-income residents to her state’s Medicaid rolls, despite the fact that outside reports estimate expanding Medicaid would actually save Oklahoma nearly $48 million per year.
When Oklahoma Watch asked Copeland what she thought about her niece’s decision to reject the Medicaid expansion, she didn’t comment. “You know, I don’t get into politics,” she said. “I just run my little business here. Hopefully, we’ll do all that we can for the people that come in. Right now I’m looking at all the returns I’ve got for next Thursday night, wondering how in the world we’ll get them done.”