Oklahoma Just Says “No” to ObamaCare At a Price of $54 Million

The state of Oklahoma has turned down a $54.6 million grant to establish the state-based healthcare exchange system required in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Governor Mary Fallin said the move “accomplishes my goal from the very beginning:  stopping the implementation of the president’s federal healthcare exchange in Oklahoma.”  In February, however, Fallin characterized the federal assistance as “consistent with our (healthcare) mission” and a “step in the right direction.”  According to Wikipedia, in 2009 fully 18.1 percent of Oklahomans lacked healthcare coverage.

Several states have refused grants of $1 million from the federal government to build healthcare exchanges — an online “marketplace” that consumers can use to compare and purchase insurance plans — but the Oklahoma grant is the largest that has been rejected to date.  The ACA r requires each state to establish a healthcare exchange by 2014.  If a state opts to not set up its own exchange, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is required to create one for the state.  Oklahoma lawmakers are refusing to let that happen. Fallin said that Oklahoma will use state and private money to establish its own exchange, even though the state faces a $500 million budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.  “We are working together to address the concerns that have been expressed by some by adding very specific language in the bill to prevent the implementation of federal healthcare exchange in Oklahoma while creating an Oklahoma-based solution,” Fallin said. The state exchange will be named the Health Insurance Private Enterprise Network, and create a public trust governed by a seven-member board made up of health insurance carriers, agents, providers, employer groups and consumers.

In fact, Fallin favors repeal of the healthcare reform law. “We all support the repeal and the replacement of the federal healthcare bill.  We do believe it is unconstitutional,” Fallin said.  A former member of Congress, Fallin voted against the healthcare bill in 2010 and supports a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt that favors repeal.  Insurance Commissioner John Doak is returning a $1 million federal healthcare grant.  “This is a fulfillment of my campaign promise to oppose ObamaCare every way I could,” Doak said.  “I remain deeply committed to a free-market system that relies on licensed agents and brokers as the frontline of consumer protection.”

Not everyone in Oklahoma agrees with Fallin’s actions.  “We are $500 million in the hole and the Republicans have decided to turn away $54 million in federal money,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Tom Ivester.  “I don’t understand how this makes sense.”  Oklahoma is likely to have $500 million less to spend during fiscal year 2012.

“When we have our disasters in Oklahoma, we are the first ones to reach out and ask the same government for help,” said State Senator Judy Eason McIntyre.  “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,” said House member Scott Inman.  “Now, just days later, Governor Fallin admits that the funding is in fact a part of 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?”

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