Saturday, July 4, 2009

Health Care in Oklahoma: Change Starts At Home

During this summer’s debate on health care reform, there’s no place in the country where the stakes are as high as they are in Oklahoma.

In the 2008 Annual State of the State’s Health report issued by the Oklahoma Department of Health last month, Oklahoma continues to rank as one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to our quality of health. Our rates of deaths due to heart disease, strokes, respiratory disease and diabetes are through the roof. The report concludes we need to exercise more, eat more fruits and vegetables, and avoid smoking tobacco. The entire report, which makes for interesting reading, is available to download at no cost from the Health Department’s website.

Despite the headlines, governmental intervention is not the only way to achieve health care reform. We first have to check our lifestyles and attitudes on a personal basis. It’s less expensive to eat better, exercise more, and stop smoking than it is to pay for emergency rooms or insurance premiums, and that applies to us both individually and collectively.

One of the most important things we can do this summer is to support the Obama administration’s efforts to bring about change in health care in this country. It’s been tried before, but this time with a Democratic Congress and White House there’s real hope that substantial progress will be made. President Obama has brought together the major stakeholders, usually at odds with each other, to bring about a consensus for change, and he wants results in the next ninety days or so. The results may not be perfect, but they should help improve the quality of life and stem the swelling cost of health care in the United States. If we don’t deal with it now, it will only get worse tomorrow.

Everyone has a horror story about how the health care system hasn’t worked for them or someone they know. The administration’s starting point is to collect those stories. They are encouraging Americans to meet and discuss both the problems and potential solutions, and at the very least raise awareness in the community. From there, they can start to fashion solutions. If there’s enough demand for a solution, the political tide can reach critical mass and solutions can be found.

A well-attended public forum for that purpose was held June 6 at the OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. One of the keynote speakers was Edmond’s Wayne Rohde, who has championed the cause for insurance coverage for autism care in Oklahoma. Those who attended were invited to share their frustrations and suggestions with policymakers in Washington. The public can still submit their views through the website

The next step is the National Health Care Day of Service on June 27. A free Health Fair is being sponsored by Change Oklahoma, Organizing for America and the Community Hope Improvement Project from 10 to noon in the south parking lot of the State Capitol. There will be free blood pressure checks, public health information, snacks and drinks, and a food drive for the Jesus House (please bring non-perishables and canned goods). There will also be plenty of people around to discuss health care issues and raise awareness about the need for change.

Change Oklahoma is also working with The Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI) on a statewide Blood Drive on June 27. This is a perfect opportunity for almost all Oklahomans to participate; for some, it may be the first time they’ve donated blood. One of OBI’s bloodmobiles will be located at the Home Depot on Broadway in Edmond. Other events are taking place nationwide Saturday, and can also be located through

Change Oklahoma is also beginning an initiative to encourage Oklahomans to be more physically active. The Health Department study ranks Oklahoma as the fifth most physically inactive state with almost 30 percent of our adult population reporting no exercise in the preceding thirty days. Physical activity has a role in reversing or preventing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis and other health problems. Some physical activity is good, but increased activity is even better. In other words, go around the block one more time on your morning walk. Park a little further from the store. Spend less time on the sofa or in front of the computer, and find a new hobby that will get you up and moving. That’s a project I’m going to adopt myself.

We all need to go the extra mile to become a little healthier. That may be the greatest and least expensive health care reform of all.