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Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's emails detail health care exchange decisions

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's office released 51,029 pages of emails Friday.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove and Phillip O'Connor Modified: March 30, 2013 at 8:38 pm •  Published: March 29, 2013

Already facing pressure from national conservative organizations and others to reverse the state's decision to participate in the federal Affordable Care Act, Gov. Mary Fallin's position appeared to become untenable when she lost legislative support for a key provision of the program.

On March 31, 2011, Fallin's chief of staff sent a one-word email after learning the Senate would not take up a bill that Fallin championed to create a state health insurance exchange.

“Dammit (sic),” Denise Northrup wrote.

“What's the plan now?” responded Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City.

Two weeks later, Fallin announced that the state would not accept a $54.6 million federal grant that would have been used to help set up the exchange. Instead, Fallin set out to develop the state's own system where Oklahomans could shop for health insurance, before later abandoning that plan, as well.

The emails were included among 51,029 pages of documents released Friday afternoon by Fallin's office in response to an open records request for information about how state officials made decisions on whether to participate in the federal health insurance program, also known as Obamacare.

In its request made in November, The Oklahoman asked for all emails relating to Fallin's decision first to accept and then to reject the federal health care money.

Lack of support

Fallin already was facing pressure from national Republican leaders to reject anything to do with Obamacare even before she lost the support of Oklahoma Senate leaders.

The records show that Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, was one of many to reach out by email to Fallin to oppose the expansion.

“Oh, how kind,” Northrup wrote when notified of Coburn's input.

Initially, Fallin supported creation of the exchange saying it would provide consumers with more choices to help improve access to affordable plans.

“Regardless of any federal assistance the state does or does not receive in the future, she will continue to support the creation of such an exchange,” her spokesman, Alex Weintz, wrote in a February 2011 email.

The lack of Senate support appeared to catch Fallin's staff off-guard.

About a week before, Fallin sent a letter to Oklahoma lawmakers asking them to pass House Bill 2130, which would have established a framework for the exchange.

“If we do not pass HB 2130 the results will be devastating for those of us who oppose Obamacare and the federal intrusion it represents,” she wrote. “Without an Oklahoma exchange, the state is virtually guaranteed to be subject to a federally run, Washington, D.C., substitute. And unlike the one we develop here in Oklahoma, that federal exchange will rely on public health care plans and be funded by public debt for many years to come.”

She asked lawmakers to join her in supporting a “free-market conservative exchange and defend Oklahoma against federalization of our health insurance.”

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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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by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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