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March 30, 2013

Gov. Fallin releases health care documents, withholds others

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY —

Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University and an expert on Oklahoma’s open government laws, said the governor’s refusal to release the documents sets a dangerous precedent for transparency and the public’s right to know.

“She’s creating secrecy that hasn’t existed for the governor’s office,” Senat said. “There has been no court decision on that. It does not exist.

“Why doesn’t she just argue that the Open Records Act doesn’t apply to her, period.”

Fallin in November announced that Oklahoma would not establish an Oklahoma-based health insurance exchange under the federal health care law or expand its Medicaid eligibility to provide medical coverage to thousands of low-income, uninsured citizens. Fallin’s decision drew immediate praise from tea party and other conservative groups who had railed against the federal health care law, but was criticized by hospital officials and other groups who supported the expansion of Medicaid.

Fallin cited the cost to expand Medicaid and create the exchange as reasons for her decision.

The documents released Friday show the governor’s office was conflicted on the creation of a state exchange, or online insurance marketplace, which was designed to facilitate competition and lower prices.

At first, Fallin and her staff accepted a $54 million federal grant to set up its exchange, but then balked after growing resistance from Republican lawmakers.

Then as Fallin’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature condemned the exchange more and more loudly, her staff toyed with working around the legislators even into November, their frustration visibly mounting.

“Can the governor create a health insurance exchange by herself or does she need the Legislature?” Weintz asked Fallin’s chief of staff, Denise Northrup, in an email on Nov. 7. “My understanding is the simple answer is yes she can, and no she does not. Is that correct and is that how we want to say it?”

Northrup responded: “OMG you are killing me. ... That is correct but I’m pretty sure we don’t want to say it that way.”

The documents also show the office was watching carefully as other states rejected the exchange. It appears Fallin made the final decision to reject the exchange less than a week before her Nov. 19 announcement.

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