Fallin gets more time to decide on key part of health care law

TULSA - Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin now has a few more weeks to make a key decision on President Obama's health care law.

She was originally supposed  to tell the White House by today (Friday) whether the state of Oklahoma would create a state-run health care insurance exchange required under the Affordable Care Act, also known to some as Obamacare.  However, Thursday evening the Obama administration decided to extend the deadline, after many Republican governors said they needed more time to make up their minds.   The new deadline is December 14.

"Oklahoma has really done none of the work that would be needed to submit an exchange application," said David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank.

Blatt said it was highly unlikely Oklahoma could have met the original deadline.

"It would be like a college student facing the beginning of the school year in August who not only hasn't applied to university, hasn't even done the SATs," said Blatt.

The exchange, which is supposed be up and running by late next year, will be an online marketplace where many of those who are uninsured will be required to buy health insurance.

The law asks the states to set up their own exchanges.  If they don't, the federal government will set one up for them.

"As a state that takes a lot of pride in our independence, I find it ironic that we've put ourselves in this position," said State Senate Democratic Leader, Sean Burrage, of Claremore.

Burrage says the governor, by hoping that the healthcare law would be repealed, has put the state in a bad spot now that it's here to stay.

"We have a duty to the people of Oklahoma to do our job and part of our duty was to set up an exchange to comply with the Affordable Care Act and we haven't done it," said Burrage. "We have failed."
But the governor has a much different view.  

A spokesman for Fallin, Alex Weintz, told 2NEWS, "Our policy staff does not believe...that Oklahoma will necessarily be subject to a federal exchange if it misses the (original) November 16 deadline," said Weintz. "Obama administration officials have confirmed that."

Weintz went on to say of the governor, "Her priority is to ensure the people of Oklahoma are best served by a system that increases access to health care, controls health care costs and does so in a way that is fiscally responsible."

The governor already rejected a $54 million federal grant that would have helped the state set up the exchange.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute says whether Oklahomans get a federal exchange or a state run exchange, the quality of their insurance options should not be affected.

The governor must also decide on another part of the law, whether to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma.

The law assumes that people living near or below the poverty line will be covered by the Medicaid expansion.  

If it's not expanded, the Oklahoma Policy Institute estimates that will leave 150,000 Oklahomans without any kind of insurance, even after the law takes full effect.

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