Fallin delays health insurance exchange decision
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Friday, November 16, 2012
11/16/12 at 4:14 PM
Gov. Mary Fallin has delayed making a decision on whether the state should take part in a health insurance exchange to accommodate the Affordable Care Act.
Fallin’s staff made her announcement in a brief email statement Friday.
Because U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials extended the deadline for states to report their intentions, Fallin was putting off the state’s decision, the announcement says.
The delay came after a period of intense lobbying by people for and against a state exchange.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Fallin, said her office received more than 1,000 calls on the issue Thursday with a variety of opinions expressed, but the majority opposed to an exchange.
A health insurance exchange is an electronic marketplace where consumers can shop for coverage. Eligible buyers can connect to federal subsidies or enrol in Medicaid at an exchange.
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act strongly pushed Falling not to take part in an exchange.
“The establishment of a health insurance exchange is just a way for the federal government to force Obamacare onto the states, and Oklahomans have overwhelmingly opposed this government takeover of health care from the beginning,” said Rep. Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, prior to Fallin’s announcement.
Ritze pointed out that State Question 756, which outlaws individual mandates in the state, passed with 65 percent support in 2010.
“Obamacare is deeply unpopular here,” Ritze said. “Just because President Obama was re-elected doesn’t mean the states should buckle to his unconstitutional law.”
However, if the state doesn’t take part in an exchange, it would not prevent one from being established in the state. Under the Affordable Care Act, federal officials will build an exchange in any state that doesn’t build on of its own or join in a partnership with the federal government to build one.
Fallin’s decision leaves the state’s federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in limbo.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s challenge to the federal law rides on the premise that Oklahoma has not taken part in a state exchange and won’t.
Fallin has had a rocky history on the exchange issue. When she first became governor, she accepted a $54 million federal grant to build a model exchange for the state. The decision brought harsh criticism from the tea party wing of Fallin’s Republican Party.
Ultimately, Fallin and legislative leaders were unable to get a legal structure for an exchange passed, and she was forced to notify federal officials that the state would not accept the $54 million grant.
When the Legislature again failed to deal with the exchange this year, it appeared the issue was dead, but Fallin raised the issue shortly after the presidential election. Friday is the original deadline for states to announce their exchange intentions, although federal officials have twice extended the time frame.
Also unresolved by Fallin is the arguably larger question of whether the state should accept Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law.
If accepted by the state, the federal program would make everyone who lives in a household under 133 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for Medicaid coverage. That would mean an estimated 200,000 uninsured Oklahomans would become eligible for Medicaid with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost for the first three years.
After that, the Affordable Care Act shifts a small portion of the costs to states, capping at 10 percent in 2020, but some conservatives have pointed to evidence that more costs could be shifted to the states.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin speaks on the campus of OU-Tulsa in Tulsa back in September. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World File