Friday, April 15, 2011

Governor Fallin, Speaker Steele and President Pro-Tem Brian Bingman held a joint press conference to announce...

Yesterday, may just turn out to have been a great day for the citizens
of Oklahoma. Governor Fallin, Speaker Steele and President Pro-Tem
Brian Bingman held a joint press conference to announce that they have
all agreed not to take the $54 million early innovator grant from the
federal government which was offered through Obama Care. In addition,
Insurance Commissioner John Doak announced his office would be
returning $1 million his predecessor had taken from the Obama Care
legislation. I am not sure, but by doing so, I believe the State of
Oklahoma has now severed all funds taken from the feds regarding Obama

Now for some of the story that has been unfolding over several weeks.
Previously, Governor Fallin and Speaker Steele have been in favor of
taking the federal dollars, believing it was necessary to create an
insurance exchange on our own to keep the federal government from
coming into Oklahoma and creating an exchange to foist upon us in the
absence of our own plan.

The first effort was HB 2130, which passed the House with 51 votes out
of a possible 101. When the bill arrived at the Senate, President Pro-
Tem Bingman surprised the Governor and Speaker Steele when he
announced the Senate would not hear the bill based upon grave concern
that in doing so, Oklahoma would likely to be wed to Obama Care. The
next day, Governor Fallin released a statement that it would become a
point of negotiations. As a result, I mentioned in the an OCPAC e-mail
the need to be wary and watch for future efforts to slip the language
in another piece of legislation.

At that time I began to communicate with several Senators and found
out that Senate leadership was truly and firmly set against taking any
of this money. They really meant it when they said they did not intend
to take any of this money. Jonathan Small from the Oklahoma Council of
Public Affairs did an excellent job of educating Senate leaders toward
understanding that if they took the money, that without doubt,
Oklahoma would be wed to Obama Care. Ok-Safe both lobbied legislators
and educated the grass roots citizens about HB 2130 which caused a lot
of bottom us pressure against taking this money.

Once it was understood that taking the money would commit us to Obama
Care, Senator Bill Brown (R-Tulsa) worked to create legislation which
he believed might keep the feds off our back, and allow us to create
something that might be beneficial for the consumers and businesses in
Oklahoma at the same time. However, grass roots conservatives,
suspicious of the true intent of the legislation, applied enough
pressure to narrowly kill that legislation in committee.

Fortunately, Senate leadership didn’t give up and drove negotiations
with the Governor and House leaders to craft the legislation that was
announced at the joint press conference on Thursday, April 14th.
Following is a quote from President Pro-Tem Bingman: “This private
enterprise network not only offers the people of Oklahoma more options
when buying insurance, it will serve as a defensive strategy that
protects Oklahoma from the federal health care law. This is Oklahoma’s
solution and federalism at work. Our plan is based on the principals
of the free market: it will not limit participation, it will increase
competition among private plans and offer consumers the ability to
shop for their best option.”

I don’t believe the proposed legislation has a bill number assigned as
yet, but sources tell me the Governor and legislative leaders have all
agreed to the language. The legislation starts out with the
statement: “The purpose of this act is to allow Oklahoma to establish
and operate its own Health Insurance Private Enterprise Network to
facilitate access to health insurance and enhance competition in the
individual and small employer health insurance markets.” Sources told
me about 85% of this bill is modeled after the Utah Plan with the
other 15% providing even greater protection from the feds as well as
more free market strengths.

There will be a trust created with a seven member board formed to
govern the network. One member will be an elected official, in this
case the Insurance Commissioner, who at this time happens to be John
Doak. The Commissioner will also serve as the Chairman of the Board.
There will only be one bureaucrat on the board and that will always be
the Secretary of Health and Human services. While it makes since for
the Secretary to be on the board, I am leary of Terry Cline, a
dedicated liberal, but that is who Governor Fallin chose as her
Secretary of HHS. I speculate he may have been the source of bad
advice early on to persuade her to want to take the federal dollars?

Besides these two, the Governor will appoint one person representing
health insurance carriers, one person representing health care
providers and one person representing employer groups. The speaker
will appoint one person who will represent consumers and the Senate
President Pro-Tem will appoint one person that is an insurance agent
or broker.

The language specifically states: “Funding for the Network shall come
from state and private sources.” I believe we must guard against the
legislature passing any kind of a bond issue for funding purposes. If
they can’t find a few dollars to get this started or find funding from
private sources, then the Network will just be slow to develop.

Some of the wording in the bill is a follows: To “Promote a
competitive, patient-centered, market based health insurance system
that includes a defined-contribution health insurance alternative for
employer-sponsored coverage which includes an aggregate premium
system; Encourage health insurance carriers to collaborate with
medical providers to offer health insurance coverage that provides
consumers quality care delivered in the most cost-effective manner;”

Other language says: “The Network shall not: Exercise regulatory
authority over any entity; Discriminate against any qualified health
insurance carrier willing to participate in the network; or Supplant
any marketplace outside the Network.

Privacy concerns are also addressed as follows: “All personal
information generated through the purchase of any policy purchased
through the Network shall remain confidential between the insurer and
the insured.

One final part, that I like is as follows: “The provisions of this
act shall be subject to legislative review and renewal no later than
May 25, 2014. That is the year Obama Care has determined the states
must be in compliance. This legislation is two fold, one it will
create something similar to an insurance hub, but it is not coupled
with Obama Care, it is our own plan. Two, a major purposes of this
plan is to buy time to allow for a different President to be elected
and different control of the U.S. Senate. If that occurs, it will be
imperative for new leadership to KILL Obama Care. If that is
successful, the Network can be reviewed by the legislature to see if
it is beneficial for the consumers and businesses as is expected and
thus be continued, or it can be eliminated. Activists will have to be
alert to the performance of this plan by the time it is evaluated.

I do believe there will be some in the grass roots that will oppose
even this effort, wanting absolutely nothing done in this regard.
However, doing nothing is not an option amongst the lawmakers as they
see it too important to by time and keep the feds from forcing
something upon the citizens of Oklahoma. I concur that this is the
responsible action for the Governor and legislature and as such I
congratulate them. However, the grass roots must always be vigilant
and determine if this network turns out to be beneficial or
problematic. We must also watch for any amendments which might harm
the intents of the legislation as it proceeds through the process.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Charlie Meadows

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