Newly Released Documents Highlight Oklahoma Health Exchange Politics

By Justin Juozapavicius and Kristi Eaton | August 13, 2014

Gov. Mary Fallin on Aug. 11 released 31 documents that her administration previously withheld from news media involving her administration’s decision to reject a state health insurance exchange under the federal health care law.

The emails suggest an administration that was highly politically sensitive to how its decision on the exchange would play with the public in the lead-up to her office’s late 2012 decision that the state wouldn’t create its own marketplace or expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — derided in many of the emails as “Obamacare.”

Last week, an Oklahoma judge upheld a decision that Fallin could have withheld the emails, but the governor said in a statement that she released the documents because she was “committed to transparency.”

“I have decided to waive the protection provided by the court so the public can understand the process that went into the policy decision not to implement an Obamacare exchange or Medicaid expansion, both of which would be unsustainable costs to the state and bad public policy,” Fallin said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union’s Oklahoma Executive Director, Ryan Kiesel, said if Fallin had produced the documents nearly two years ago under the Open Records Act, Oklahomans would have had more transparency and been spared unnecessary legal costs.

“The precedent the governor is attempting to create would allow the executive branch of our state to hide behind bogus privileges, and only reveal requested documents after months of litigation and before untested legal arguments are reviewed by the state’s highest court,” he said.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of the satirical news website The Lost Ogle, which joined with several news organizations, including The Associated Press, in a request for documents from the governor’s office related to her decisions to reject the state health insurance exchange and not expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income and uninsured Oklahomans.

Fallin’s office released more than 51,000 pages of emails and other correspondence. But the office withheld 31 documents consisting of 100 pages of materials that her general counsel determined to be part of “executive and deliberative process privileges.”

In June, an Oklahoma judge ruled that state law recognizes the “deliberative process privilege” and that Fallin could withhold the documents.

Some of the email records illustrate the political sensitivity — and even some of the pettiness — of some members in Fallin’s administration in its deliberative process over the health exchange.

A July 3, 2012, email written by one staffer states, “we have been saying ACA is unaffordable because the state will have to pick up the costs of adding 200,000 Oklahomans to the rolls, at a price of a half billion dollars.

“The decision we are faced now is whether to accept exactly that provision of ACA or to turn it down. We’ve already said it won’t work and is unaffordable. why not just make it official and say we won’t take the money? That also buys us some time to look twice at the exchange with people who want us to make an anti-ObamaCare statement,” the staffer wrote.

In an October 2012 email exchange, a former staffer for Fallin was working with the then-deputy policy director on a response letter to a blog post by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

The staffer said the letter should include the name of the National Governors Association president, but the deputy policy director replied that it was Bill Clinton.

“Was trying to avoid a democrat name but I think youre right,” he wrote, to which the former Fallin staffer responded: “I think your instinct was right. I would say leave out the reference to a president since it’s not a president we want to associate with.”

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Latest Comments

  • August 14, 2014 at 1:49 pm
    KY jw says:
    I'm curious. Why was it important for the media to know why the governor declined to open a state exchange or increase the Medicaid population? Isn't the reason meaningless?
  • August 13, 2014 at 2:41 pm
    Agent says:
    Yes, 35 other states also didn't create an exchange because they knew the implications and cost involved with expanding Medicaid and having issues with this terrible law. The... read more
  • August 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm
    TX Agent says:
    More than what the Obama Administration will do.
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