36 Hours: ObamaCare in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY – Forget “48 Hours.” The first 36 hours after announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act – much more widely known as “ObamaCare” — created a tsunami of commentary, conflicting analysis and controversy about what it all means.

Governor Mary Fallin, a strong critic of the law, said she would move slowly in response. She estimates implementation could cost the state a half-billion dollars. 

While legislative leaders backed Fallin, the state Democratic Chairman assailed her for not calling a special session to create a health exchange. Fellow Republicans, including Attorney General Scott Pruitt (who had sued to kill the law), backed her. 

Several legislators said the state should avoid implementation while repeal efforts advance during the presidential election season. Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City wants an intensified fight “against the implementation of this destructive federal law.”

Whatever else results, the ruling united the state GOP dramatically, just days after a divisive primary fight between “Tea Party” and “mainstream” conservatives.

The bluntest critique of ObamaCare came from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the state’s leading think tank. Jonathan Small, fiscal director, said the ruling was bad, but left room for policymakers “to empower people to escape from the Medicaid ghetto and give them the dignity of having their own health insurance.”

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority sketched who would be eligible for mandated insurance benefits, without arguing the merits. The agency stressed the High Court said states have a choice whether to cover more people through Medicaid, and that it anticipated further federal guidance. Of comfort to ObamaCare’s critics, the authority said it will “look towards Oklahoma’s leadership for direction as to future action.”
Here and there, the outcome has fans. Dr. Katherine Schierman, a military veteran and activist Democrat, praised the ruling. Dr. Boyd Shook, a venerable liberal who runs a free clinic, said the first word from his mouth was “Alleluia.” Then, he set to work thinking through the challenges of implementation, including the state’s long-standing shortage of primary care physicians.

Oklahoma City University Law Professor Andrew Spiropulos expressed shock that Roberts, and not Justice Anthony Kennedy, provided the swing vote to uphold the law. The result was surprising because, he said, “on point after point” the legal analysis “read like a conservative lawyer’s dream.”

In the end, the conservative thinker opined, “the Court’s decision to leave matters to the people may be best for all concerned.”

Note: McGuigan is the author of three books, including “Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork” (University Press of America, 1990), with Dawn M. Weyrich, and the editor of seven books on legal policy.