POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Culver, Pemberton want politics out of health care

Oklahoma lawmakers intend to file a bill during the next legislative session that would limit the scope of who Gov. Kevin Stitt can appoint to the state Health Care Authority Board.

In response to Gov. Kevin Stitt's removing the only two physicians from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, announced legislation he'll file next session to remove some of the governor's oversight authority.

The two board members - Dr. Jean Hausheer and Dr. Laura Shamblin - claimed in early September that the governor ousted them because they blocked his effort to outsource the state's Medicaid program to private insurance companies. Stitt declined to provide a reason for the physicians' removal.

The board is made up of nine members, five of whom the governor has the power to appoint. The Legislature picks the remaining four.

Monroe's legislation would repeal portions of Senate Bill 456, which was passed in 2019 to allow the governor more control over the OHCA board. It would require two board members to be consumers of the agency's services, and at least one board member to be a licensed medical practitioner. All the panelists would have to have experience related to health care or managed care, except for the two required consumers. Board terms would be tied to the terms of their appointer. The OHCA director would be selected by the governor from a list of three chosen by the OHCA board. And direct oversight of the administrator would move from the governor to the board.

"The Legislature gave authority to the governor and he abused it," Nichols said. "Now it is up to us in the Legislature to take it back. Oklahomans deserve a health care system that is removed from politics."

The OHCA is one of five agencies the Legislature handed oversight authority to the governor. While Democrats will try to limit some of that power next session, it would be no surprise if Stitt thwarts their attempt through a veto.

State Rep. Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah, said he ran a bill last session to require six of the members of the Oklahoma Abstractors Board to be licensed abstractors. It passed both the House and Senate overwhelmingly, but was struck down by the governor.

"My exact comment to him was, 'If you've got a health board or a medical board, you would sure want some doctors, nurses and somebody in the field. For the electricians board, I would think you would want some certified electricians on it that know this stuff.' So I'm all in favor of the health board having some doctors, nurses - somebody in the health care field," Culver said.

The two new members of the board Stitt appointed are Susan Dell'Osso, a former chief innovation officer for INTEGRIS Health, and Gino Demarco, a former senior executive for a Medicaid consulting and software company.

In June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the OHCA's attempt to implement a managed care plan - at the direction of Stitt - violated state law and was therefore void. The court ruled the agency acted without legislative authorization and without adopting administrative rules for the bidding process.

Stitt said the ruling would "unnecessarily delay Oklahoma's efforts to improve health outcomes through managed care, which the Legislature confirmed is the right path forward for out state through Senate Bill 131." But lawmakers have said the measure didn't take effect, given the ruling.

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, said the governor exercised his executive authority to remove the board members, and whether people like it or not, he and future governors will have that power until the law is changed. He's not in favor of the effort to outsource the Medicaid program, though.

"I don't really care for managed care," Pemberton said. "That's been a fight going on at the capitol ever since I've been there. I don't think it benefits the state of Oklahoma. There's a group that says it brings the cost down. I'm not so sure it does, but I think the Health Care Authority has proven over the last few months it's been able to administer Medicaid expansion with the same people."

Cherokee County Republican Party Josh Owen, Cherokee County Democratic Party Chair Yolette Ross, and Cherokee County Libertarian Party Shannon Grimes did not return media inquiries by press time.

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