Oklahoma rejects $54.6 million federal grant

Gov. Mary Fallin says that state and private money will be used to develop a system where Oklahomans could shop for health insurance. No cost estimate is available.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: April 14, 2011 at 9:31 pm •  Published: April 14, 2011

To make it clear Oklahoma will develop its own plan, the state will not accept a $54.6 million federal grant for setting up a system where Oklahomans could shop for health insurance, Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday.

Fallin's announcement reverses her decision two months ago to accept the federal money.

Fallin said the state instead will use state and private money to form the system. She had no estimate of how much it would cost, but House Speaker Kris Steele said Thursday he believes a system can be developed for an amount less than the federal grant.

The state is facing a $500 million shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year. Steele said legislative budget leaders and the governor's office will have to determine where the state will get the money to pay for developing the exchange.

The Republican governor and Steele, R-Shawnee, had supported using the money from Democratic President Barack Obama's administration to pay for the effort, upsetting many Republicans and conservatives in the state who had gone to the polls five months earlier to vote for opting out of the federal health care law.

“We're very conscientious of the concerns that have been expressed, we want to deal with those concerns,” Fallin said. “We want to make it very clear in writing, once again in legislation what we're for and what we're not for in the state.”

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, originally agreed to accepting the federal money, but he came out against the idea two weeks ago.

He said he was worried the grant could lead to federal control of Oklahoma's online insurance informational system, which the federal government calls a health insurance exchange.

Fallin said the rejection of the federal grant should make it clear that Oklahoma is not accepting the federal health care law. The state has filed a lawsuit challenging the federal law's constitutionality, and Fallin voted against it last year while a member of Congress.

Oklahoma hasn't received any of the grant money, she said.

State faces deadline

Legislation is being drafted that would form a board to oversee the establishment of Oklahoma's health care exchange. It's hoped the measure can be passed this session, which ends late next month. States must have their plans in place by the end of 2013.

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