Patrick B. McGuigan
The announcement today (Thursday, April 14) that Oklahoma will not implement the “ObamaCare” health exchange came just a couple of hours before state Insurance Commissioner John Doak announced his intention to return a $1 million grant to study premium rates as a precursor to implementation of the new federal health care law.
This afternoon, House Democrats expressed dismay with Governor Mary Fallin’s decision to reject the $54 million federal grant intended to be used to implement the federal law’s exchange mechanism.
In her early weeks in office, Governor Fallin, a Republican, had continued a grant process she inherited from former Governor Brad Henry, a Democrat, to finance creation of the exchange. Similarly, Commissioner Doak, a Republican, had been on track to work within a grant his predecessor (Democratic Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland) had secured for the rate review.
Today, Doak said, “I believe it is in the best interest of the Insurance Department and the state to return this grant, which was accepted by my predecessor. Oklahoma voters made their voices heard loud and clear in November that they do not want ObamaCare. More recently, they have made it clear that they do not want Oklahoma to accept or spend money associated with ObamaCare. That is what Oklahomans want and that is what I am going to do.”
Doak has vigorously opposed the federal care law, and made it a linchpin in his 2010 campaign.
“This is a fulfillment of my campaign promise to oppose ObamaCare every way I could,” Doak said, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK. “I remain deeply committed to a free-market system that relies on licensed agents and brokers as the frontline of consumer protection.”
That insurance agency grant was designed to help finance reviews by state officials of insurance premium rates, with the intent of identifying what the federal law deemed “…unreasonable and unjustified and/or excessive rate increases.”
Doak explained his position: “The Oklahoma Insurance Department currently conducts and will continue to conduct premium rate reviews under state law. However, we will not do so with ObamaCare money.”
Doak took the opportunity to cheer Gov. Fallin for deciding to turn down the $54.6 million “Early Innovator Grant” announced for Oklahoma in February.
He said, “Gov. Fallin’s decision to return the Early Innovator grant further distances our efforts to create an exchange based on Oklahoma’s free-market, consumer-oriented ideals from the Obama administration’s efforts to impose what likely will be a restrictive framework on Oklahoma.
The new approach is described as a “network.” Fallin and key legislative leaders, Senator Brian Bingman and House Speaker Kris Steele, say their objective is to fashion an Oklahoma solution to Oklahoma problems, rather than follow the mandates of the federal law.
Democrats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, who had supported Fallin’s earlier inclination to accept the “innovator” money, told reporters today they were “puzzled” over her new stance.
Scott Inman of Del City, leader of the House minority caucus, said in a statement to CapitolBeatOK, “Just two weeks ago, Governor Fallin defended her decision to accept $54 million from the federal government to implement the state health exchange by arguing that the money was not tied to President Obama’s healthcare plan, and that the state could not afford to do it on our own.
“Now, just days later, Governor Fallin admits that the funding is in fact a part of Pres. Obama’s healthcare plan and that somehow despite our $500 million shortfall, we can afford to do it without these funds. The question I have is: Was Governor Fallin wrong then, or is she wrong now?”
Yesterday, a large group of House Republican freshmen had asked the governor to reject the federal money and concentrate on an Oklahoma plan. In today’s announcement, Fallin said the new network for information assisting uninsured Oklahomans would be financed by state and private money.
Speaker Steele said details of the new approach were still being worked out, but reporters were provided with a specific set of guidelines that will guide the network alternative to the exchange.