Oklahoma’s counter-productive spite on health care

OKLAHOMA’S COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE SPITE ON HEALTH CARE …. I can appreciate the fact that far-right activists and lawmakers at the state level, especially in deep “red” states, loathe the Affordable Care Act. I just wish they’d think that opposition through a little better.

Under mounting pressure from local Republican legislators, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is turning her back on a $54 million health reform grant she once proudly supported.

It is by far the largest health reform grant that any state has rejected. Other states have returned or turned down $1 million exchange planning grants.

Oklahoma “will not accept the $54 million Early Innovator Grant” Fallin announced Thursday afternoon, noting that the move “accomplishes my goal from the very beginning: stopping the implementation of the president’s federal health care exchange in Oklahoma.”

In this case, Fallin actually wanted the money, and had even taken steps to accept it. HHS had distributed Early Innovator Grants in February, with seven states accepting funds to “build the technology infrastructure that other states would use as a model.” The Oklahoma governor, just a few months into her first year in office, was eager for her state to take this leadership role, and actively lobbied for the grant.

But Fallin’s Republican colleagues didn’t see it that way. To accept the $54 million grant was somehow seen as cooperating with the Obama administration and the health care reform effort. The GOP-led legislature forced her to turn down the funding.

We’ve seen this before. In Georgia, Montana, and South Carolina, right-wing activists have also rallied to undermine, and even kill, proposals to establish state-based exchanges. As conservatives see it, if they can defeat exchanges in state capitols, they can undermine the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in their area.

But that’s not how the law works. If states balk at creating exchanges, as Republicans in Georgia, Montana, and South Carolina demand, then the federal government will create, and possibly manage, exchanges for these states. (Tea Partiers are unwittingly fighting aggressively to expand federal control over health care.)

The Oklahoma case is especially odd — even GOP officials in the state know they have to create an exchange, but have decided that they’d rather not have a $54 million Early Innovator Grant to put it together. And if they fail to craft an effective exchange that meets the standards of the Affordable Care Act, federal officials will just impose one on them anyway.

Republican opposition to health care reform long ago abandoned reason, but Oklahoma is engaged in self-defeating spite for no reason.