State Should Reinstate Planned Parenthood WIC Participation

“I’ve said time and time again, I’m a pro-life candidate, I’ll be a pro-life president. The actions I’ll take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget.”—Losing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

That Planned Parenthood has been politicized in what many people now know as the Republicans’ “war on women” is blatantly obvious.

Losing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, vowed to defund the organization on the federal level in his campaign, and other Republicans in a concerted effort on the national level and here have tried to eliminate funding for the organization as well.

The issue, of course, is abortion for myopic and radical anti-abortion groups and their political supporters, but Planned Parenthood doesn’t and can’t legally use any of its federal money for the procedure. In Oklahoma, in fact, the organization only makes abortion referrals and doesn’t even offer the procedure.

The national and state political effort to defund the organization makes it difficult not to view a state Health Department’s recent decision to stop three Tulsa-area Planned Parenthood clinics from participating in distributing WIC benefits as starkly political, especially given Oklahoma’s overwhelmingly Republican and deeply conservative government and legislature.

Now, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, as expected, has filed a federal lawsuit to challenge that Health Department decision, arguing the state agency has violated its constitutional rights because of its position on abortion. As a Planned Parenthood staff attorney said, according to a media report, "Politics should never interfere with a woman's access to health services - or food for her children."

The Women, Infants and Children program, known in its shortened form as WIC, provides nutritional supplements to “low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk.” The idea is to get low-income children off to a healthy start in life while ensuring their mothers have the help they need. Pretty radical stuff, right?

The Health Department has argued that politics had nothing to do with its decision. It contends the Tulsa-area Planned Parenthood clinics had higher costs than other participating organizations and had problems with its billing. Planned Parenthood spokespersons said the costs were justified because of late and weekend hours serving WIC participants and that they were never given an opportunity to simply adjust their policies to meet state expectations.

As I wrote when the decision was first made:

A spokesperson for the Health Department said there were “performance factors” involved in the decision and that it was solely a “business decision,” but why the suddenness of the decision and why can’t Planned Parenthood simply address these performance and business issues?

It seems clear the state has taken a hostile and inflexible position against Planned Parenthood. Why not simply work with the organization and resolve any problems if they do exist?

State officials need to quickly settle this lawsuit and reinstate Planned Parenthood’s WIC contract. The election is now over. President Barack Obama won a clear victory and Democrats added to their majority in the Senate. WIC is a federal program, administered by state agencies. There is NOT a national election mandate or any type of mandate to stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Let’s be clear: Mitt Romney said he would stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and he lost.


Note To Oklahoma GOP: Obamacare Will NOT Be Repealed

We can only hope local Republican leaders will soon get over any smug celebration of Oklahoma’s election results, recognize how they and others in their party seriously miscalculated the election’s national outcome and finally come to terms with the Affordable Care Act.

Conservative pundit after conservative pundit predicted a Mitt Romney landslide in the election as they isolated themselves in a Fox News/Rush Limbaugh bubble that is as laughable as it is tragic. Romney’s huge landslide was then supposed to lead to the immediate repeal of the ACA. Oklahoma, of course, did give Romney a landslide and extended state Republican gains in the House and Senate, but we’re out of step with a majority of the electorate.

President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, known derisively as “Obamacare,” wasn’t the election bugaboo Oklahoma Republicans wanted it to be. GOP leaders here have wasted valuable time and money by filing a lawsuit against it and declining money to implement it.

Just as Democrats must accept that Republicans have super majorities in both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature so do Republicans here need to accept the idea that Obamacare is here to stay. It’s the law. American voters had a chance to get rid of Obamacare, and they chose not to do so.

This means two things need to happen right now. Oklahoma should accept an expansion of the Medicaid program and either create a health insurance exchange as mandated by the ACA or work amicably with the federal government as it does so.

So far, post-election, Fallin has again delayed a decision on these matters. She has no excuse. Obama’s Electoral College rout, 332 to 206, has clearly given him a mandate to implement his health care legislation. What politics are there left to play?

It’s true the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that states don’t have to accept the expansion of the Medicaid program to people at or below 133 percent of the poverty rate, but the federal government will pay all the costs for three years and then gradually make states pay only 10 percent of the cost.

Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, argue the expansion will cost too much, but this ignores the long-term savings of expanding basic medical care and providing preventative care to a broad swath of American people.

The exchange will allow people to purchase health insurance at competitive prices and thus increase the number of people who are insured. This drives down medical costs for everyone, too. Unfortunately, Fallin, under pressure from extremists in her own party, rejected $54 million in federal funding to help set up the exchange and now she has until Nov. 16 to decide whether the state will do it on its own or simply let the federal government will do it.

Of all Republican leaders here, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt perhaps miscalculated the most when he filed suit on behalf of Oklahoma against the ACA. The Supreme Court, with a majority of conservative justices, has upheld the individual mandate provision in the ACA and now voters have reelected Obama to a second term. The energy and state money Pruitt has expended on this political nonsense should be controversial, but it’s highly unlikely Republicans, who control the state government, will hold him accountable.

At issue here is, again, math. Obama consistently led in most polls conducted in battleground states throughout the election. Most prominent Democrats never publicly gloated and recognized the capricious nature of “odds,” but mathematicians, such as Nate Silver of The New York Times, were consistent in predicting Obama’s victory. Meanwhile, Republicans—from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe to conservative pundit Dick Morris—predicted a Romney landslide. They simply didn’t do or couldn’t do the math.

Republicans here are not doing the math on the ACA either. The math is to expand the number of people who are insured to drive down health care costs for everyone. The math is to catch medical problems earlier before they develop into major, expensive illness. The math is to pool resources to benefit everyone. There is an algorithm for each of these items.

Oklahoma Republicans can isolate the state further through smug, petulant ideology and false arrogance, but it’s clear Obamacare is the law of the land and will remain so.


Fallin, GOP Should Accept Medicaid Expansion

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

Will Gov. Mary Fallin refuse federal money to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act?

Fallin has said through a spokesperson that she is currently weighing the matter, but the decision should be a no-brainer when it comes to human decency. The expansion will make approximately 200,000, low-income Oklahomans eligible for health insurance. That’s a significant number in a state with a population of 3.7 million people, and that’s why Fallin should brush aside calls in the Republican Party here for her to reject the money.

As we all know, the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the ACA, known as Obamacare, but its decision also allowed states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion program contained in the new law. Under the program, states could use Medicaid to cover adults who have incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level. The federal government would provide the bulk of the money, but states would eventually have to cover some of the expansion costs with matching funds.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has already said he will refuse the federal money because it would eventually cost his state too much money, and it’s been reported the Republican governors in other states are considering rejecting the money as well.

The question, though, is whether the threat of rejecting federal money is more of a political act, an anti-Obamacare gesture, than it is a fiscal decision.

Oklahoma, in particular, with its poor medical care rankings and relatively modest budget, is a place where a Medicaid program expansion could go a long way in improving health care. Obviously, the state could definitely use the extra federal money.

If she accepts the money, Fallin undoubtedly will find herself under fire from conservative extremists in her party, and it could be used against her in a reelection bid. But that’s two years away, and the overall view of Obamacare might be much different than it is now. The political risk seems minimal given Fallin’s popularity ratings as well.

If Fallin adopts a do-nothing posture and just hopes for repeal, as she did by rejecting federal money to create a health insurance exchange in the state, then Oklahomans could actually end up paying for Medicaid expansion in other states with their federal tax dollars. Meanwhile, our medical rankings here will remain low, and thousands of low-income adults will go without adequate health care.

The new health care law is not perfect, but it’s what we have, and it’s a start to repairing an unsustainable medical system that has many problems. Fallin should do the right thing by putting politics aside and accepting the new federal money.