Going against the sentiment of GOP legislative leaders and the governor, a nonpartisan group of Oklahomans says the state should opt into the Medicaid expansion under the federal health care bill.
The Oklahoma Academy, a membership organization intended to bring public attention to policy issues and provide research, also suggests Oklahoma leaders focus on improving public education, consolidating county government and improving the health of state residents, according to a report released Tuesday.
“Oklahoma should opt into the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act in order to improve primary and preventive care,” the report states.
“Town hall participants as they came through this process brought that forward and the suggestion of town hall participants was that we should participate in that,” said Steve Kreidler, vice chairman of the Oklahoma Academy, who presided in October over nearly three days of meetings in which about 140 participants came up with recommendations.
“That's now water under the bridge and we're going to go forward as Oklahomans,” he said.
Gov. Mary Fallin last month rejected the federal government's proposal to expand the Medicaid health care program to an estimated 150,000 uninsured individuals in Oklahoma. The governor said the Medicaid expansion is unaffordable and untenable given the fiscal challenges the federal government faces.
A governor's spokesman reiterated Tuesday that Oklahoma is not going to implement an expansion of Medicaid as proposed under the federal health care law.
“The governor does believe, however, that Oklahoma should continue to work on a state level to expand access to high-quality, affordable private health care,” said Alex Weintz, Fallin's communications director.
The group agrees with the Republican governor and GOP legislative leaders, however, that the workers' compensation system should be changed. It is suggesting an opt-out workers' compensation system, which would allow certain companies to create their own workers' compensation plans and opt out of the state system. It also suggests that changing from a judicial to an administrative system “could also reduce costs and improve predictability.”
Those taking part in the academy discussions believe the current system is too expensive for employers and offers too low benefits for workers who are legitimately hurt on the job, Kreidler said.
Unlike most previous years, this year's recommendations focus on areas Oklahoma should address in the next 20 years. Usually, the group, founded in 1967, focuses on one topic.
Other key recommendations include adequate funding to maintain and develop Oklahoma's infrastructure, including its waterways; reviewing the state's tax structure; and more collaboration with American Indian tribes in the state.
Kreidler said many of the issues have been addressed by the Oklahoma Academy in previous years. The group has supported changing the county government structure since 1995.
“For the state of Oklahoma to become a player in the global marketplace over the next two decades, we must invest in educating the next work force, creating a culture of good health and investing in the infrastructure systems that are critical to economic growth and quality of life,” said Kreidler, who also is executive vice president of the University of Central Oklahoma.
To improve the state's business climate, the group also is recommending the creation of an “Oklahoma opening fund,” with an initial annual funding of $10 million to increase eventually to $50 million, to be a one-stop funding source for startup and growing businesses.
The Oklahoma Academy said the state's 77-county structure is antiquated and inefficient.
It is recommending that Oklahoma encourage intergovernmental and interlocal cooperation to reduce duplication and increase effectiveness and efficiency of services, such as jails, courts, schools, roads and administrative services.
“We think more taxpayer money is being spent than needs to be spent to provide the quality of services that our folks need in our state,” Kreidler said.
Oklahoma should opt into the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act in order to improve primary and preventive care.”
Oklahoma Academy report,