In July, Oklahoma expanded free Medicaid coverage to an additional 200,000 low-income adults, including many tribal members, after voters passed a ballot initiative compelling the state to do so.
“They’ve had to choose between getting the specialty health care they need and feeding their family,” said Rhonda Beaver, the chief administrative officer for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Health Department. “This Medicaid expansion helps our Native American people who had to make those choices.” Since the expansion took effect on July 1, more than 23,000 eligible Native Americans have enrolled in the program, according to state officials — about 13 percent of the total 171,056 people who have signed up statewide.
The Indian Health Service is chronically underfunded, and Indigenous Oklahomans disproportionately lack insurance coverage. For Native Americans, the death rates for preventable diseases, like addiction, diabetes and liver disease, are three to five times higher than for any other race.
For Jonathan Martin, 37, his family of five in Park Hill, Okla., lost their health insurance after he was laid off from his job in March because of the pandemic. Soon after, Mr. Martin, a diabetic, contracted Covid-19 and nearly died following a weeklong stint in the hospital with pneumonia and weakening kidneys.
His wife, Adrian Martin, 30, said her husband recovered but the mental strain that the virus had caused left him needing behavioral health treatment. He was afraid to leave his home for fear of catching the virus again and dying, she said. Without insurance, Ms. Martin said, they were unable to find him the help he needed in the tribal health care system, which she said had a long waiting list for such care.
After qualifying for Medicaid expansion, Ms. Martin was able to obtain free coverage for her family and get her husband into therapy.
Read more at NYTimes.com.