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April 28, 2013

Healthcare, education top menu at breakfast discussion

CHICKASHA — The four representatives and senator that are responsible for districts in Grady County converged at the Fairgrounds in Chickasha Friday morning, where healthcare and education topped the discussion list.

The breakfast put on by the Chamber of Commerce brought a crowd of county citizens out to hear about happenings and future issues in the State legislature. The main topic of the morning was easily healthcare, as local hospital representatives were present to ask the representatives about why Oklahoma has chosen not to participate in the market exchange and expansion of Medicaid aspects of the Affordable Healthcare Act.

“I’ve got four hospitals in my district,” Rep. David Perryman, said. “I understand we don’t want to rely on the federal government, but when we start looking at the numbers, they don’t lie. We need to look at the Affordable Care Act seriously, because those funds could go to another state.”

By not participating, Grady County Memorial Hospital will not see funding that would prove valuable to balancing the books. Rep. Leslie Osborn, whose District 47 includes Tuttle and northern portions of Grady County, said federal money would not come to the state without strings attached she believes are too severe.

“The federal government does not have that money in some savings account that they can just hand out,” Osborn said. “They have to make it, print it to give it to us. Then, there’s a huge caveat at the end that says we’ll give you all of this money for a few years, but when that’s all done they expect us to keep paying.”

Freshman Rep. Scott Biggs, a fellow Republican, agreed with Osborn that accepting federal money is risky business.

“That common core standard we’re stuck with in education when we received all of those federal dollars is just a foreshadowing of what will happen with the Affordable Care Act,” Biggs said. “We have to do what’s best, overall, for Oklahoma.”

While expressing his own distaste for the Affordable Care Act, CEO of Grady Memorial Hospital Mike Nunamaker said he still would like to see the state work within its boundaries to try and improve the financial position of hospitals across Oklahoma.

“Once you throw Affordable Healthcare, Obamacare – or whatever you want to call it – on the table, discussions stop,” Nunamaker said. “But, the Supreme Court has said that’s the law of the land. To me, it’s not about Obamacare; now, it’s about how do we make it work. Over half of our hospitals in the state are in dire straits. I don’t understand how we can say to federal government ‘Sure, give us all of this money for roads and bridges,’ but we don’t want it for healthcare. How is a pothole more important than a 70 year old man that needs surgery?”

In addition, the representatives spoke about improving the quality of education in the state. Osborn said there was talk in Oklahoma City about providing extra funds to education.

“I think we all agree we’re probably not going to get all the funding we need,” State Sen. Ron Justice said, “but we can make progress with education.”

Osborn said she also would like to see less emphasis given on school administration positions.

“If we get rid of about half of the educational administration in this state,” she said, “that could lead to about $5,000 more for teachers salaries. It’s not about just throwing money at the situation.”

A topic the representatives, for the most part, agreed on was the recent approval of a bill to reform the Oklahoma Workers Compensation system. The bill overhauled the system to allow for more mediation and less litigation in workers comp cases, Osborn said.

“Now, we have a system that encourages mediation, not lawyering up, and one that focuses on getting workers healed and back to work,” Osborn said.

Rep. Joe Dorman voted against the bill, however, because of provisions that allow companies to choose a system differet from the one set up by the bill.

“The opt out provisions are my biggest concern,” Dorman said. “If major corporations who have little risk factored in opt out, the premium costs for everyone else could go up. I will say that the bill that did pass was superior to the one that first came to the floor.”

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