Legislative leaders agreed Thursday to wait until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the national health care law to pursue developing a state-based marketplace where residents would shop for private health insurance products.
Conservative groups applauded the decision while a powerful business group said lawmakers are making a mistake.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule as early as June on a legal challenge brought by several states alleging the national health care law is unconstitutional.
The federal health care law requires states to submit plans for health insurance exchanges if states don't want to use a federal system. The federal government will impose its version of an insurance exchange on states that don't set up their own
If the high court would overturn the law, it's possible the health insurance exchanges required by the law would not be necessary. A ruling upholding the law could make Oklahoma, which a year ago returned a $54.6 million federal grant to develop a health insurance exchange program, scramble to get a system in place. The deadline to have a plan submitted to the federal government is Jan. 1. The system should be operational a year later.
A favorable ruling also could result in state Attorney General Scott Pruitt pursuing his lawsuit, which has been placed on hold until the other lawsuit is decided. Pruitt's lawsuit seeks to have parts of the health care law ruled unconstitutional to prevent the entire law from being enforced.
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges the federal health care law violates a new part of the state constitution approved in November 2010 when voters passed a state question that prevents Oklahomans from being forced to buy health insurance. His lawsuit states that the Oklahoma Constitution and federal health care law are conflicting provisions that cannot coexist.
A legislative joint committee last month recommended lawmakers begin taking steps to establish a system similar to the one in Utah, which was established before the national health care law was written. It also recommended Pruitt continue to seek to overturn the national health care law.
Legislators had prepared Senate Bill 1629 as the measure to contain the insurance exchange language and comply with the national health care law promoted by Democratic President Barack Obama.
David Tackett, executive director of Oklahomans for Liberty, said thousands of calls by constitutional conservative groups like his and Tea Party members were a key factor in the decision by Oklahoma legislators to put off acting on developing a health exchange this session. He said legislators couldn't round up the required votes to get an insurance exchange proposal passed.