MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 3, 2013

Legislature gets F on health care


— Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin gave lawmakers an A for approving much of her agenda during the recently concluded legislative session.

The Legislature deserves an F for its handling of the health insurance situation for lower-income Oklahomans. This group is about 17 percent of the state’s population.

Fallin rejected the opportunity last year under the federal health care law to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 200,000 people without health insurance. She said doing so would prove too costly.

House Speaker T.W. Shannon said he doesn’t believe providing health insurance “is a proper or efficient function of government.”

The state’s Insure Oklahoma program will expire Dec. 31, and federal regulators have refused to allow the state to extend it without modification.

A last-minute plan was floated in the House to modify and expand the Insure Oklahoma program by using state and federal money, combined with modest co-pays. It went nowhere. Another plan was offered by Fallin to cover some using tobacco tax money, but it stalled as well.

If uninsured, these people will cost the state and people of Oklahoma. The Legislature should have acted sooner.

Fallin and lawmakers await the findings of Utah-based health consultant Leavitt Partners, due at the end of June, on how the state can expand coverage to its uninsured population.

Fallin did not rule out the possibility of calling lawmakers back for a special session to address the issue.

Special sessions are costly.

The uninsured often seek expensive medical care at hospital emergency rooms and drive up the cost of health care. These costs would be greater than the cost of the special session.

The governor should receive the report and call the special session.

The Legislature must not drop the ball on this issue again, or we will all pay for their failing grade.