Despite Gov. Mary Fallin’s rejection last year of $54 million in federal health care allocations, millions of dollars in Affordable Care Act funds have been awarded to state and local agencies, programs and organizations in Oklahoma.
In fact, more than $25.5 million in federal health care funding has been awarded to state agencies since the legislation passed in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Fallin rejected funds that would have assisted with the development of a health care exchange for the state, but she has not stopped individual state agencies from applying for — and receiving — other types of funding through the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare.
Fallin thinks the act will lead to new taxes, unfunded mandates, increased bureaucracy and decreased patient choice, said Alex Weintz, her spokesman.
“However, the 900-plus page bill also includes language that reauthorizes or expands currently existing programs,” he said.
“In many cases, Governor Fallin does not have the authority or the desire to prohibit state agencies from applying for grants that continue to fund existing Oklahoma-run programs, expand or improve those programs, or otherwise assist in the mission of those agencies.”
Funds have been allocated to Oklahoma for preventive health programs, to build up the state’s health care workforce and crack down on fraud, according to U.S. Department of Health.
Among the most significant grants and allocations awarded to state agencies:
•$4 million for a program to help low-income individuals receive training in health care professions that face shortages.
•$2.6 million to reduce health care fraud by identifying procedures by which long-term facilities can conduct background checks on prospective employees.
•$14.4 million for programs that bring health professionals to the homes of at-risk families expecting or caring for infants and small children.
•$1.8 million to help pregnant and parenting teens and women complete education, gain access to health care and other support services.
An additional $13.2 million was awarded to local government agencies and organizations in Oklahoma via a prevention fund developed by the federal legislation, including the Community Transformation Grant that was awarded to Oklahoma City-County Health Department to finance development of a ZIP code-based cardiovascular care program.
A half-million dollars was allocated to the state health department to support aging and disability resource centers.
Leslea Bennet-Webb, health department spokeswoman, said it’s difficult to measure funding secured through the Affordable Care Act because some of the funding offset reduced federal grant funding for existing programs elsewhere.
She estimated the department’s current fiscal year budget includes about $20 million in Affordable Care Act funds.
Some of the federal money was awarded during the tenure of former Gov. Brad Henry, including $415,000 in consumer assistance grants and a $1 million insurance rate review grant allocated to the state insurance department.
Kelly Collins, insurance department spokeswoman, said the former grants funded the hiring of two ombudsmen for its consumer assistance division, among other things. All but $20,000 of the rate review grant was returned to federal officials when John Doak took over as insurance commissioner in 2011, she said.
“Oklahomans have made it clear that we do not support the implementation of Obamacare in our state,” Doak wrote in a letter to the U.S. Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight in May.
“We are most able to address the health insurance needs of our citizens by using our own state resources.”
OKC mayor’s view
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican who co-chairs the Wellness Now Coalition, said he is happy to accept the federal money because were it not spent locally, it would be spent in another state.
The Wellness Now Coalition, comprised of city and county government representatives as well as a long list of community health stakeholders, developed the programs supported by the Community Transformation Grant and helped direct how the funds would be spent.
“Congress should spend less money, but if they’ve decided to spend the money, it’s my job to make sure the citizens of Oklahoma City get their share because it’s their tax money, too,” Cornett said. “I don’t think the city has ever rejected money out of a philosophical argument.”
And it’s not the only time local government groups have been inspired to accept federal money doled out by the Obama administration: Federal stimulus dollars were accepted and spent by Oklahoma City in recent years on several high-profile infrastructure projects, including resurfacing roads and improvements at the airport, he said.