As a state, we face a lot of consequences for our poor quality of life rankings. The effects are so great that Governor Mary Fallin has decided to lay out some uncomfortable truths.
Fallin said we've lost too much opportunity, too many jobs and too many lives to keep sweeping under the rug the poor choices that are holding us back from being So Much More.
Running for re-election last year, amid all the pomp of Inauguration Day and the opening of the legislature, Fallin laid it out.
“If we don't have healthy families it hurts Oklahoma, it hurts our prosperity. We need to improve and improve quickly,” she said. “But the stakes for our state are very high,” she said.
With no more races to run, the governor is looking at her legacy by laying out some uncomfortable truths.
“I know we can improve. We need to do a better job of educating why health matters,” she said. “Sixth worst in smoking rates, billions of public and private dollars going to treat preventable illnesses.”
She said there are too many of us behind bars, too much wasted potential and too many lives ending before they should.
“One in every 11 Oklahomans will serve time in prison at some point in their lives,” Fallin said. “We must encourage more Oklahomans to continue their education beyond high school. We are too good of a people to continue to be the worst state in the nation when it comes to health outcomes.”
So when Fallin was asked what's keeping us from being So Much More, she provided a list.
“What holds us back as a state? Lack of educational attainment, also incarceration, substance abuse, crime and certainly, our health,” she said.
But with a $611 million hole in the state budget, her plan to reverse those curses revolves around personal responsibility.
“Taking charge of your health, taking charge of your education, staying out of problems with substance abuse, alcoholism, things like that; and a new measurement of state government called Performance Informed Budgeting,” she said.
Each state agency has set goals, and developed specific ways to measure them. You'll be able to follow their progress online at OK State Stat.
If an agency can prove it's turning around health, education or incarceration markers, it stands a good chance of seeing a budget boost.
“And then try to tie our funding and programs to what works and not give money to things that don't work, that don't actually change the outcome,” Fallin said.
While the governor notes the success of Sooner Care - which oversees the state's Medicaid programs - Insure Oklahoma, which covers some small businesses, and even the federal Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare.
“You're not going to turn these numbers around until you get more people covered with health insurance. We certainly want to encourage as many people as we can to have coverage in the state. We have had a reduction in our uninsured in the state of Oklahoma,” she said.
Fallin still isn't budging on expanding Medicaid under the ACA, which could give as many as $200,000 more poor Oklahomans health insurance.
“And if we were to expand Medicaid, we'd have to put more resources into the Medicaid system when we're $600 million short in our budget already,” she said.
Until more Oklahomans have health insurance, our bottom-of-the-barrel national health rankings, at least, will stay there; and they bring consequences.
Decision makers do take note of them, they cost us opportunity, and you'll rarely hear a politician admit it, but the governor's got nothing to lose now.
“And actually there was one company that was looking at one of our cities in Oklahoma and they had all these different cities they were comparing, different states, and they actually said, ‘I chose not to come to Oklahoma because you rank poor in health, and if you have unhealthy workers, and unhealthy people, then my health insurance costs are gonna be higher, plus, people are gonna be taking off work 'cause they're just not healthy and they won't be as productive,'” Fallin said.
It's a broad indictment that costs us all, and set the governor's course for So Much More.
“We are better people than that,” she said.
OK State Stat will track each agencies progress to improve health and education markers.
If you'd like to contact the governor's office to ask her more about her efforts to make our state So Much More, you can all 405-521-2342 or visit online.
If you know someone working to make Oklahoma So Much More, you can send that information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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