A legislative panel exploring the impact of the new federal health care law on Oklahoma will likely suggest that the state should do the minimum amount required to comply with the act, the committee’s chairman said.
State Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, said the 10-member Joint Committee on Federal Health Care Law, is expected to recommend Oklahoma develop some type of health care exchange, or online insurance marketplace, so that the state complies with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Stanislawski said he anticipates a bill will be introduced in next year’s legislative session to set up the framework for an exchange in the hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down a key provision of the law that requires citizens to buy health insurance.
“I’m sure we’re going to go forward with something,” Stanislawski said following the committee’s final meeting on Nov. 15. “We want to wait until the Supreme Court ruling in June, but at the same time, we can hedge our bet so that if it’s approved we are working toward some type of an exchange.”
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, is President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement and is the most far-reaching domestic legislation in a generation. It aims to provide health insurance to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans by requiring individuals to buy health insurance starting in 2014, by expanding Medicaid and by applying other provisions, many yet to take effect.
Republicans, including many state attorneys general, say the law is unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court has promised an extraordinarily thorough review of several aspects of the law, including the constitutionality of its key provision requiring individuals to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.
In Republican-dominated Oklahoma, politicians have derided the health law since before it was signed. A constitutional amendment on the 2010 ballot in Oklahoma to prohibit any person from being forced to participate in a health care plan received more than 65 percent of the vote, and Republican politicians across the state, including Gov. Mary Fallin, campaigned last year on opposing what they describe as “Obamacare.”
Fallin herself has said she hopes the federal health care law is repealed by Congress and has joined with Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a lawsuit that contends the law is unconstitutional.
Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature rejected $54 million in federal money to set up the state exchange, in part because of bitter opposition from tea party activists and other conservatives.
Stanislawski said he’d prefer not to comply with the federal act, but he acknowledged that if Oklahoma does not have the framework established for an exchange by January 2013, the federal government will set up and operate its own exchange for the state.
“I’m not ready to commit to an exchange that complies until I know for sure the Supreme Court isn’t going to overturn it and we don’t obtain a new president who is going to overturn it,” he said. “We’ve got to be moving in the right direction.”
Stanislawski and co-chairman Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa, met on Monday with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who urged Oklahoma lawmakers to base their exchange on one established in Utah. Officially launched in 2009, the Utah Health Exchange is an online marketplace set up to help individuals or businesses buy health insurance, find an agent and compare rates. So far, nearly 200 employer health plans are participating in the exchange and cover about 1,700 employees and 3,200 dependents.
“What Utah did is helping their citizens,” Stanislawski said. “It has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. It has everything to do with giving consumers more choice and small business owners more options.”