Oklahoma insurance commissioner refuses to enforce federal health care law

TULSA - Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak refuses to enforce the national health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, leaving the federal government to enforce it instead.

Doak said he lacks the authority to enforce the federal law.

"The Oklahoma Insurance Department does not have the authority and will not enforce federal law in the state of Oklahoma," said Doak.

Doak said the state insurance department takes guidance from the legislature, the governor and the state constitution.

"That is what we regulate under," said Doak. "The federal government is asking the state of Oklahoma to enforce federal laws over and above our state laws."

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Doak noted his campaign promise to oppose the federal health care law and said Oklahoma voters are overwhelming against the law.

"It is my firm belief that, under the authority provided to me by the citizens, constitution, and legislature of Oklahoma, I am not authorized to enforce the federal law," wrote Doak.

Doak also said his office was returning a $1,000,000 grant the federal government sent the state to help enforce the federal health care law.

The grant was accepted by the Henry administration, according to Doak.

In response to Doak's letter, the Obama administration sent a response letter.

Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director for the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight, told Doak federal law doesn't require states to enforce the health care law.

"However, it does require CMS to enforce such protections in any State that notifies CMS that is does not have legislation to enforce or that it is not otherwise enforcing" said Cohen.

Doak said this means the federal government will overreach and create dual regulation in the state, which he said would harm residents and lead to more paperwork and higher insurance costs.

But state Senate Democratic Leader, Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, said he is not buying Doak's argument that he lacks authority to enforce the health care law.

Burrage says Doak, like other state Republican officials, are playing politics.

"The Constitution of the United States is the Supreme law of the land, so to say that he's not going to follow the law, I think is disingenuous and grandstanding," said Burrage. "We're not talking about if you like the Affordable Care Act or if you don't like Obamacare. We're talking about what the law of the land is, the law of the U.S."

Burrage compared Doak's decision not to enforce the federal law to Gov. Mary Fallin's decision rejecting the state creation of a health care exchange, or  insurance marketplace.

The federal government now plans to create a health care exchange in Oklahoma.

"He's once again inviting the federal government to come into Oklahoma and to get in the lives of Oklahomans," said Burrage.

Cohen said Oklahoma still has the option of  enforcing provisions of the federal health law on its own in the future.

"If in the future Oklahoma should act to assume enforcement authority of the Affordable Care Act market reform requirements, CMS will enter into discussions on the process for an effective transition..." said Cohen.

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