BY KENNETH WELLS
Gov. Mary Fallin, like the president of the United States, will not face re-election as “head of state.” What she will do is continue to place blame for Oklahoma’s ills upon the backs of Oklahoma’s agencies that do not have the authority to correct health problems, the incarceration rate, substance abuse and/or Oklahoma’s education system.
People who still smoke cigarettes are not the “only reason” that Oklahoma is always at the “bottom of the barrel” when it comes to a healthy population.
As reported by Scott Thompson of NewsOnSix, Fallin admitted that, “Actually there was one company that was looking at one of our cities in Oklahoma and they had all these different cities they were comparing, different states, and they actually said, ‘I chose not to come to Oklahoma because you rank poor in health, and if you have unhealthy workers, and unhealthy people, then my health insurance costs are gonna be higher, plus, people are gonna be taking off work ‘cause they’re just not healthy and they won’t be as productive.’”
Oklahoma’s elected Republican officials, bowing to pressure from their campaign contributors, adamantly oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This is the major reason Oklahoma will continue to be “at the bottom of the barrel.”
Think on the following. The outcome of the lawsuit trying to prevent Internal Revenue tax incentives for Oklahomans who purchased health insurance through the federal marketplace is still in front of the United States Supreme Court. If the court decides in favor of this absurd lawsuit, Oklahomans who have received premium assistance to pay for their health coverage this year will no longer be covered. Their only recourse will then be to find a job with health coverage or obtain a higher salary!
The other major portion of the Affordable Care Act that Oklahoma’s lawmakers have failed to act on is expansion of Medicaid [Sooner Care]. The data is in from eight states that adopted the expansion of Medicaid for adults whose annual incomes are at or below 138% of the federal poverty level.
The findings of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that by Expanding Medicaid, those eight states have already saved $1.8 billion! It further reported:
These states should expect to see:
– Reduced need for state spending on programs for the uninsured and people with behavioral health needs;
– Savings related to increase federal dollars for certain newly-eligible Medicaid enrollees, including pregnant women and people with disabilities; and
– Revenue gains related to existing insurer or provider taxes.
These states have seen budget savings and revenue gains without reducing services. Some state budget savings could offset the cost of expanding Medicaid through 2021.
While ignoring the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and expansion of Medicaid, the governor readily admits that turning the negative statistics around in Oklahoma will require more people to be covered with health insurance. However, she still denies the fact that because of the accessibility of the federal marketplace to Oklahomans, we have had a reduction in our uninsured.
Under Oklahoma’s archaic sentencing system, Gov. Fallin admits that one in 11 Oklahomans will, at some time, incur a prison sentence. Again, she excuses this ratio by accusing Oklahomans of not being encouraged to continue their education beyond high school.
There is no mention, however, in Thompson’s article that the governor even recognized the elevated high school dropout-rate of minority students. Nor did she recognize the high incarceration rate of minorities and females under current laws.
There is no way to overcome part of Oklahoma’s substance abuse and incarceration rates when state government forbids county and city administrators to increase their minimum wages above the federal minimum wage level.
With no remedy for a conservatively estimated $611 million budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2015-16 facing all of us, ALL of Oklahoma’s state departments/agencies will be required to do much with little. Meanwhile the “haves“, citizenry and business, will continue to thrive while the “have-nots” will lag further behind!
– Kenneth Wells lives in Ratliff City, OK, and is an occasional contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His essays appear in newspapers across southwestern Oklahoma.