Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
Tulsa World, May 13, 2013
Medicaid standoff a disservice to Oklahomans
Does anyone else see the massive irony in Gov. Mary Fallin's latest attack on the Obama administration? She accused the president of not keeping his word and of "actively" seeking to toss 30,000 Oklahomans off a state-subsidized health-insurance program, when she has had it in her power for many months to singlehandedly provide health insurance for an estimated 180,000 residents by next year.
Thanks to Oklahoma's inaction, the Insure Oklahoma program really is in jeopardy, and a consultant's report on how Oklahoma can address the uninsured says another home-grown solution probably can't be up and running until sometime in 2015.
So in other words, Fallin's refusal to go along with any Obamacare reforms means something like 200,000 Oklahomans might have to do without health insurance until perhaps 2015, when they could have obtained coverage a year earlier if state leaders would put politics aside and work on their behalf.
The latest flare-up occurred after a federal official wrote to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, saying that the Insure Oklahoma program could not be extended in its existing form past the end of this year.
Insure Oklahoma, which is funded by state, federal and private funds, provides coverage for low-income Oklahomans through the private market.
But it has a cap on enrollment, which is a sticking point with the feds. The letter from Cindy Mann, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that such an enrollment cap "will not be approved" under federal health-care reform requirements.
That prompted Fallin to pounce on the feds. "This is the latest bad news in the ongoing train wreck that is the Affordable Care Act," she said in a statement. "It is outrageous that President Obama is actively dismantling the successful health care program established by states to force citizens onto Obamacare health insurance plans. ... He has not kept his word."
But if Fallin had accepted the Medicaid expansion element of the ACA, all of those Oklahomans plus about 150,000 others would be getting health insurance sooner rather than later.
While Fallin's tone was harsh, the letter from the CMS director was anything but. In at least six statements, Mann indicates the administration remains open and eager to working with Oklahoma to find a workable and acceptable solution to the current standoff.
A consultant's report, which Fallin has said will be her blueprint for creating an "Oklahoma plan" for dealing with the uninsured, was unveiled late last week. It calls for various elements such as government-subsidized private insurance, co-pays, and incentives for good health practices and good outcomes.
But Michael Deily, senior adviser for Leavitt Partners, said such a complex plan probably cannot be ready to launch until 2015, and in the meantime, the state should continue to negotiate with the feds over preserving Insure Oklahoma in some form.
"Don't just leave it as the 'no' answer," he said. "I think there is an ability to elevate that a little bit and look for a different answer."
Oklahoma leaders had the opportunity to get many of the Leavitt recommendations in the pipeline with Senate Bill 640, authored by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove. But it isn't even going to get a hearing.
So it appears state leaders are going to continue the foot-dragging and political posturing as long as they possibly can. But here's what's going to happen in the end: Oklahoma eventually is going to get some kind of new health-insurance plan, featuring some elements the feds want and some elements state leaders want. The biggest question is when it's going to be available. And thanks to the political obstinacy of those in charge around here, it looks like it's going to be later rather than sooner.
May 14, 2013
Northbound trains still just talk
The Amtrak Heartland flyer train began service from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth on Flag Day, 1999. Its inaugural run south marked the end of a 20-year absence of passenger rail between Oklahoma and Texas.
At the time the train pulled from the station, rail supporters said it was only a matter of time before trains carried passengers north to Kansas.
It's been nearly 14 years and we are no closer to that goal today than we were in 1999. Studies have suggested the need to close the 185-mile service gap between Oklahoma City and Wichita, but getting states together to agree on funding sources has proven to be a slow process.
This past week, in honor of National Train Day, some mayors in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma have signed a letter of support for daily rail service from Oklahoma City to Wichita. Such service would strengthen the I-35 corridor, which runs from San Antonio to Kansas City.
Officials said the Kansas Department of Transportation will contribute $3 million for Wichita to pursue federal funding for the project, contingent on Oklahoma providing $2.3 million.
The Heartland Flyer's success could be helped with more daily runs. Unless your travel schedule is flexible, the once-daily morning run south and back in the evening is rather confining.
It has also been suggested the trains allow recreational cyclists to bring their bicycles on board without putting them in boxes. That was allowed until a few years ago.
The Oklahoman, May 12, 2013
Michael Behenna merits a little mercy, compassion
For every Hallmark moment on Mother's Day, there is a heartbreak moment.
A child lamenting the recent loss of a mom. A mom mourning the long-ago loss of a child.
Mothers gather with their children on the second Sunday of May. They break bread in a restaurant or around the family table. If they can.
Vicki Behenna cannot.
She won't be at the family table with her son Michael. Mother's Day in the Behenna household is a heartbreak moment because Michael is in a military prison while Vicki is fighting for his freedom.
The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson tells the Behenna family's story in Sunday's newspaper. It's the tale of a high school senior who was so moved by the events of Sept. 11, 2001 that he insisted on being a soldier. On that day, when so many mothers died and so many mothers lost a child, Michael Behenna's determination to serve his country began — as did his mother's concerns for his safety.
Wars produce heroes but also make widows and leave children without a mother and mothers without a child. This was the fear Vicki had when Michael got his U.S. Army officer's commission in 2006, a fear that accelerated when he shipped out to Iraq.
Michael made it home from the combat zone, but he can't be at home in Edmond today. And this may not be the last second Sunday in May that finds Behenna behind bars. Given the set of circumstances that led to his imprisonment, this is an outrage.
Behenna has spent the past four years at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. He has 11 years remaining on his sentence, a sentence wrapped in political correctness at the time it was meted out, following a trial that saw a key witness left on the sideline.
Michael Behenna has come close but ultimately been unsuccessful in getting his conviction overturned. His family is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case. If that fails — the high court accepts very few appeals each year — Behenna must return to the Army's pardon and parole board once a year to seek clemency.
In 2008, Behenna shot and killed Ali Mansur, an Iraqi who was part of a terrorist cell operating in an area where an attack had killed two of Behenna's men. Mansur was held for a time and then released. Behenna was ordered to return him to his village. Instead, he interrogated this enemy combatant one more time, forcing him to strip and questioning him at gunpoint.
Behenna said he shot Mansur after the man threw a piece of concrete at him and lunged for Behenna's weapon. At trial, a crime scene expert who was on the government's list of witnesses was never called to testify. The expert later told Behenna's attorney that he would have made a good witness — for Behenna.
The military justice system said Behenna waived his right to self-defense by pointing his weapon at Mansur. Seriously? The soldier's 25-year sentence (later reduced) was stunning, given that other soldiers and Marines convicted of similar crimes in Iraq got lesser sentences. The difference: They weren't convicted during a time when the United States was working out a politically sensitive agreement with the Iraqi government.
Behenna is among a group called the "Leavenworth 10" who had the misfortune of getting into trouble during that time. They were made an example of, their cases used as signals to the Iraqis that Washington was taking seriously the misdeeds of our fighting men.
And so Lt. Michael Behenna, now 29, has spent the past four years in prison. His once-promising military career is in shambles. Barring a reversal or parole, he could miss another decade of Mother's Days.
Whatever message the government was trying to send concerning Behenna's actions was long ago received. He's been punished enough. He should be released tomorrow with a dishonorable discharge and returned to his family.
A group of retired generals and admirals, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, are among those who've urged the Supreme Court to grant Behenna a hearing. The case merits one. Most of all, Michael Behenna merits mercy and compassion. Vicki Behenna needs other mothers to join her fight for justice.
This Mother's Day, while recalling the Hallmark moments from Michael's youth, she must endure the heartbreak moments of his present circumstances.