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November 20, 2012

Oklahoma rejects health mandate

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma will not establish a state-run health insurance exchange under the federal health care law or expand its Medicaid eligibility to provide coverage to thousands of low-income, uninsured citizens, Gov. Mary Fallin announced Monday.

The Republican governor’s move puts Oklahoma’s insurance exchange, required under the health care reform law, in the hands of the federal government.

“This choice has been forced on the people of Oklahoma by the Obama administration,” Fallin said.

Fallin, who cited the potential costs to the state of operating a health insurance exchange, also rejected the idea of a federal-state partnership in operating the exchange.

Fallin’s decision drew immediate praise from conservative groups and lawmakers who have railed against the federal health care law and have urged the governor to resist any attempt to implement its requirements in Oklahoma.

“Oklahomans simply do not want anything to do with Obamacare, and Senate Republicans stand firmly with the governor in rejecting it,” Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said in a statement. “We want real, conservative solutions to the rising cost of healthcare — we want to make care more accessible, more affordable, and easier to obtain.”

Hospitals and chambers of commerce had urged Fallin to support both a state-run exchange and the expansion of Medicaid.

Hospital officials had argued that health care providers are being forced to absorb the costs of the nearly 20 percent of uninsured Oklahomans who often seek health care services at emergency rooms and are unable to pay.

“Governor Fallin’s decision not to expand the Medicaid program to cover uninsured low-income adults is deeply troubling and unfortunate, putting politics over the interests of Oklahomans,” said David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based nonprofit that promotes funding for public services. “We are missing a vital opportunity to improve the health of our citizens, bolster the financial situation of our health care providers, and strengthen our state economy.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was among the state attorneys general who filed a lawsuit alleging the health care law was unconstitutional, and even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act constitutional, Pruitt amended his lawsuit to challenge its implementation.

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