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

“We believe that we can develop a better solution,” said Fallin, who was flanked by Steele, Bingman and several GOP state senators during a Capitol news conference. “We believe an Oklahoma network is good public policy for our state. This plan will allow better access to care.”

Bingman, Steele and the governor reached agreement Thursday on language in a bill that will be introduced shortly.

Language in the bill will prevent the implementation of a federal health care exchange in Oklahoma while the state is developing its own network, Fallin said. The legislation will set up what will be called a health insurance private enterprise network “to make it very clear where we stand,” she said.

“Certainly with this language in this bill that we've all worked together on, it's important to note that we're trying to engage the private sector,” Bingman said. “We want to get the people that have the expertise in this area to get them engaged. ... That should send a message to the rest of the country that we're going to take care of our own problems here in Oklahoma.”

The legislation will set up a public trust that will be headed by Insurance Commissioner John Doak, a Republican. Insurance carriers, agents and providers, along with employee groups and consumers, will serve on the trust, Fallin said.

The federal health care law requires states to submit plans for their own health insurance exchanges if the state doesn't want to use a federal system.

Oklahoma was one of several states awarded a grant in February to help set up their exchanges. Former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, applied for the grant late last year.

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives — by the narrowest of margins — approved Steele's health exchange bill in March, but the measure was never taken up in the Senate.

Sen. Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow, chairman of the Senate Insurance and Retirement Committee, said he reviewed the federal grant and found that accepting it would put Oklahoma at risk of having the federal government eventually run its health care exchange. He told Bingman, and Bingman decided the bill wouldn't be heard in the Senate.

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