NORMAN — I thought my friend was making a bad blonde joke when he told me that Gov. Mary Fallin had decided to return $54 million federal dollars the state had already accepted to create an insurance exchange to extend Medicaid supported insurance to un-insured Oklahomans.
The money was part of the Affordable Care Act. Later, Fallin explained that she believed that President Barack Obama would be defeated and the Affordable Care Act would be repealed in January 2013.
Obama was re-elected this November. The next day, the federal government moved forward to implement the Affordable Care Act. As part of the process, each state had a deadline to determine whether they would implement an insurance exchange using federal dollars. The original deadline was deferred to Nov. 21.
A few days before the deadline, Fallin announced that Oklahoma would not implement the insurance exchange (thereby refusing the federal implementation dollars). According to the press release, Fallin stated that the state share in the outlying years would require budget cuts to critical state programs, specifically education and transportation.
What Fallin did not say was that the federal dollars she refused would have paid to implement the exchange and then fully supported the expenses for up to five years and partially supported expenses for the remainder of a decade.
She didn’t say that Oklahoma has one of the highest per capita rates of medically uninsured citizens in the nation. Nor did Fallin say that Oklahoma already ranks among the lowest five states in expenditures per pupil in our schools. Neither did she acknowledge that Oklahoma owns an extraordinary number of miles of substandard roads and unsafe bridges.
Fortunately, newspapers across Oklahoma, including The Norman Transcript, checked the facts and published what the governor did not say. In addition to completing the picture, they found that the cost projections cited by Fallin were grossly inflated.
They reported that the primary supporters of the governor’s position were a conservative think-tank whose methods and findings have been found suspect, and a representative of the insurance industry who maintained that insurance companies already operate an insurance exchange in Oklahoma.
I think that the governor and her legislature should find a way to implement federal law, particularly one that would benefit nearly 200,000 state citizens. It seems to me that rational planning, thoughtful priority setting addressing state problems (i.e., education, health care and infrastructure), and putting in place a realistic and fair budget could accomplish great things for Oklahoma. Of course, this is my opinion, I could be wrong.
Bill Huntington is a longtime Norman resident.