State Capitol
7:53 am
Fri April 19, 2013

Medicaid, Apologies, and Workers' Comp at the State Capitol This Week

Credit Provided

House Democrats started off the week by gathering members of their caucus and supporters of an expansion to the Medicaid insurance program. House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) says Oklahomans have sent approximately $27 billion in taxpayer dollars to the federal government.

“We come together as a community of Oklahoma citizens today and call upon our governor and our legislative leaders to just bring some of those $27 billion back to Oklahoma to take care of those people who desperately need healthcare.”

Inman argued accepting the federal dollars would provide an economic boost to the state, and prevent a nearly $3 billion dollar loss to hospitals in Oklahoma. David Keith is the CEO of the McAlester Regional Health Center.

“Many of our hospitals see a majority of Medicaid patients,” Keith says. “Without the expansion, they cease to exist. That doesn’t make economic sense, and it doesn’t make good community sense. It’s something that we need to look at, take seriously, and to provide good care to our communities. To maintain primary care access, we need to expand Medicaid.”

Governor Mary Fallin turned down the opportunity to insure more Oklahomans under the federal program, saying it would cost too much money. She instead favors a yet-to-be revealed “Oklahoma plan” for providing health care to uninsured residents.

Also in the House, a comment State Rep. Dennis Johnson (R-Duncan) made on the floor received wide ranging criticism.

“There’s such a thing called niche marketing,” Johnson said. “You find out what you do better than somebody else, and that’s what you market. That’s what you do as a small business. Then you get the reward of success. People come back to you. They like what you do. They like the service they get. They might try to Jew me down on a price. That’s fine. You know what? That’s free market as well.”

Johnson made the comments during debate Wednesday on a bill that would remove a cap on discounts stores can put on things they sell. He says he later apologized to the Speaker of the House.

Johnson, who is 59 years old, said the term was something he heard frequently as a youngster and that the comment "was just something that came out from the wrinkles of my brain." Johnson apologized on the floor of the House yesterday, saying what he did was wrong. He told the members, “What I said was hurtful to many good and decent people. My words were careless. They were unintentional and do not indicate what was in my heart.”

It seems like nearly each week in this report, there is something to say about two top Republican legislative proposals: tax cuts and workers’ compensation. And, that’s the case again this week. State leaders say they are close to agreement on those issues and a third, an eight-year plan to improve the infrastructure of Oklahoma government. House Democratic leader Scott Inman has Wednesday circled on his calendar to deal with a total change in the workers’ compensation system.

“I visited with Republican leaders who are in charge of that bill and they say there are maybe ten, 15, 20, 25 amendments,” Inman says. “But what those specifics are, they have yet to share with me.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa) would not discuss details of ongoing negotiations between the Senate, House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) and Governor Mary Fallin’s office.

“I’d love nothing more to be able to come out early next week and say we have an agreement in principle and go from there,” Bingman says.

But Speaker Shannon has suggested Wednesday could be the day that Oklahomans get their first glimpse of details on a cut to the state income tax. That would leave only one day for lawmakers to meet the deadline on Thursday for action on bills opposite of the chamber where they started.