In his regular briefing for Capitol reporters today (Thursday, March 31), Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said the upper chamber would not consider House Bill 2130, the controversial measure designed to start the process of aligning Oklahoma with new federal health care exchange provisions.
Bingman told reporters, “I don’t think we’re going to be hearing that bill. Republicans in the Senate are not for ObamaCare. We want to support the lawsuit to fight ObamaCare. … As this was discussed, we decided to slow that process down.”
The top Republican in the upper chamber said the issue will probably come back, but clearly in a different form. He said, “We will work with the House and the governor, and work out an exchange that is right for Oklahoma.” Bingman said policymakers might use “private or state resources, to put together our own exchange without the federal strings.
The Sapulpa Republican told reporters the Senate would fashion a measure in collaboration with the state Insurance Department and that Senators would work to include the state Insurance Department. One goal is to “fashion sunset provisions so that the issue of federal control could be readdressed if we need to do that.”
Reporters pressed Bingman on reasons for the spiking the bill, three days after Governor Mary Fallin included it in her list of bills she hoped legislators would “fast track” for her signature.
Bingman explained the outcome was the result of “study of the issue.” He said that Senator Clark Jolley of Edmond, a fellow Republican and the bill’s sponsor, “was concerned about moving forward. Decisions along the way were made based on the information being provided to us.”
Bingman said concerns about the federal grant for designing an exchange, “and the strings attached” led to the consensus to rethink the issue.
CapitolBeatOK asked if Senate Bill 722 could provide a framework for a fresh approach, Sen. Bingman said he could not answer yet, but would be studying the matter. S.B. 722, if enacted, would create the framework to allow Oklahoma to join a voluntary compact among states as a different approach to governance of health care policy.
Monday, while reiterating her opposition to the federal law, Governor Fallin contended the state had to enact an exchange to avoid leaving policy development to the federal government.
She asserted, “A vote against House Bill 2130 would be a vote to allow ObamaCare to come to Oklahoma. I don’t want that.”
In today’s exchange with reporters, Senator Bingman said he had not discussed the issue with the chief executive: “I have not spoken to her directly about this, but I believe she is rethinking the issue, as we are.”
Governor Fallin late Thursday repeated her strong opposition to the federal health care law. However, commenting on Bingman’s decision, she told reporters:
“I’m disappointed that the president pro tem has made a sudden announcement. I don’t think it’s helpful for us not to have plan.”
Fallin reasserted her view that inaction “lays the basis for the federal government to come in and impose a plan” on the state. The chief executive expressed worry that there are “just a couple of weeks” for bills to start through the process.
If the state does not have a plan in place this calendar year, and waits until 2012 to finalize one, Oklahoma would face “a very tight time frame” to comply with the new health care law’s mandates. She said “the only way to avoid federal control is for Oklahoma to have a plan.”
Saying she still hopes the Supreme Court will strike down “ObamaCare,” Fallin said that for now “it remains the law of the land.”
Fallin said she had not yet discussed the matter anew with the Pro Tem, and said, “The speaker put forth a plan. I had a plan. I look for the president pro tem to come forward with his plan. I haven’t had a chance to talk with him, so I don’t know.”
Echoing Speaker Kris Steele, Fallin said, “There are legitimate concerns. There are discussions, and I’m listening to them.” She noted the federal grant announced for the state had received the support of key officials, including Bingman, when it was announced last month. She pointed out application for the federal grant was made by former Governor Brad Henry.
Fallin said discussions had been under way for alternative language to create the health care exchange, with plans to “put it in a bill.” She noted the state had not yet received any federal money, and that receipt of the grant money would be staggered over several months. At one point she said, concerning potential delay in development of an exchange in the 2012 session, “I think it’s going to be hard to get it done next year.”
While critical of the federal law, Fallin contended that officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were allowing “broad leeway to the states.” She added, “They want the states to give them ideas” on rules, regulations and other steps in the process.
As discussion with the group of journalists continued, the governor said, concerning Bingman’s decision, “I don’t think it’s helpful. What’s best for Oklahoma is for everyone to sit down and address this.” She promised, “We’ll continue on with the discussion.”
Fallin pointed out — as have other defenders of the exchange concept — that it originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation. The governor said she and her staff have been in communication with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs to seek input on exchange language that would protect citizens from imposition of “ObamaCare.”
Oklahoma Speaker of the House Kris Steele expressed some surprise at Bingman’s decision. However, Steele expressed confidence that the House and Senate will work together to avoid letting the state invite federal health care control in the state.
In his customary Thursday meeting with state Capitol reporters, Steele said, “I believe wholeheartedly the purpose of H.B. 2130 was to get ahead of the curve on ObamaCare, in order to protect free market principles, competition and individual responsibility.
“This issue is important. The Pro Tem, the governor and I all agree on opposition to ObamaCare. I know we are on the path to set Oklahoma on the path to develop a plan to meet our citizens’ needs. The history of this is that in 2009 [the state] established a steering committee to create an exchange, and the principles by which it will be governed.”
After a reporter described Senator Bingman’s concern that the legislation, which cleared the House on March 17, would invite federal control, Steele said, “I would respectfully disagree. The purpose of H.B. 2130 is to protect against the imposition of ObamaCare. If we don’t do anything, the federal government will come in and establish its own plan.”
He added, “There are some concerns. I respect those concerns. I feel confident and have conversed enough with him to know we will work together. My plan is to visit with Senator Bingman and see what his concerns are.
“I believe the goal is to identify solutions. I reiterate my opposition to ObamaCare. Ultimately, the concept of an Information Technology infrastructure to help consumers know their health care options will come about.”
Steele, a Shawnee Republican, sketched development of the exchange concept from his perspective: “We brought in leading conservatives like Grace-Marie Turner and the people from the Heritage Foundation. The idea of the compact is that people should know their benefits, be able to access information, empowering individuals to take control of their own health. This all began before passage of the federal law, pre-federal health care changes.”
He continued, “The exchange is a tool that has promise, if established the right way and implemented the right way. Since 2009, some exchanges have been established. Utah I believe did it right. We mimicked their language. Massachusetts did not do it the right way.
“I am more interested in meeting the needs of our citizens than in the label. It doesn’t matter to me what we call it. I do know that if we sit back and do nothing that something will be imposed on us. I don’t think this is a matter where one size fits all, and that’s why a state-guided approach is so important.”