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Emails show Oklahoma officials' decision-making process on health care law

Emails show how Insurance Commissioner John Doak and Gov. Mary Fallin progressed from supporters of a state-based exchange to critics.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: February 8, 2013 at 10:02 pm •  Published: February 8, 2013

A records request identical to the one filed with the Insurance Department was sent to Fallin's office and that of state Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt's office has responded in part, but Fallin's office has yet to respond.

The Insurance Department emails, nevertheless, demonstrate Fallin was supportive of a health care exchange just a matter of weeks before sending back the $54 million.

“Unlike the federal exchange Washington may try to force on us, the exchange we are trying to build offers a positive, free-market alternative to the big government, tax-and-spend plan that is the (Affordable Care Act),” Fallin wrote on March 22.

In addition to the Goldwater email and several emails from other local and national conservative groups, Doak also received emails from insurance providers who complained an exchange could impact their bottom line.

An email dated March 1 from Tim Hendricks, owner of Tulsa-based insurance company Business Planning Group, to Doak and others said insurance agents and brokers could not maintain a level playing field if an exchange were to be developed.

“Buying direct via an Exchange will cost the consumer less than through an agent or broker,” Hendricks wrote. “Unless Comm. Doak and our friends in the State Legislature can design a state Exchange that requires accessing broker services before an applicant can purchase health insurance, our profession is doomed.”

Another vocal critic of the state plan came from within the Insurance Department.

Former state Sen. Randy Brogdon, a deputy commissioner under Doak, publicly protested a state-based exchange but not in his capacity at the department.

Rather, Brogdon was listed as the lead author of an email in March sent out by the Tulsa County Republican Platform Committee that called on Fallin to return the $54 million in federal funds.

Brogdon was the only senior adviser in the Insurance Department who was opposed to building a state-based exchange, according to emails.

“On the surface a state exchange sounds like a better choice, but ultimately I believe a state exchange will usher in full fledge [sic] Obamacare to Oklahoma,” he wrote in a policy paper prepared by the department.

Brogdon could not be reached for comment Friday.

The emails demonstrate top Doak advisers were concerned that his acceptance of federal dollars might put him in a bind. In dozens of emails they encouraged him to walk a fine line between opposing Obamacare and pushing for a state-based exchange.

“There could be serious political repercussions for being involved in the implementation of the exchange,” wrote Rick Farmer, another deputy commissioner, in a policy paper shared via email. “A large part of your political success was the overwhelming opposition of Oklahomans to this overreaching, federal incursion. Implementing Obamacare will taint you.”

In another email, Farmer asked the Heritage Foundation, another conservative think tank, to write opinion pieces for newspapers in Tulsa and Oklahoma City that would explain why the grants and exchanges are OK, saying, “we are getting beat up pretty hard here in Oklahoma.”

Rep. Mike Ritze said on Friday that he would attribute the sudden change of plans more to pressure by “boots on the ground” — Oklahoma residents and lawmakers who did not want Fallin to pursue an exchange.

Ritze said several large rallies at the Capitol encouraged many top policymakers to reconsider the effort.

“The biggest concern would be the exchanges leading to a kind of backdoor approach to Obamacare,” he said.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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