The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

May 8, 2013

Draft report to solve Oklahomans health insurance coverage withheld

OKLAHOMA CITY — A consultant hired by Oklahoma to help create a plan for covering people without health insurance has delivered a draft report on its findings to state officials, but officials refuse to release the report.

Oklahoma Health Care Authority will present some of the consultant’s preliminary findings and recommendations at its board meeting on Thursday, using a PowerPoint slide-show presentation, an Oklahoma Health Care Authority spokeswoman said. That slide show will be released after the meeting; the draft report will not be released at the time. A final version of Utah-based Leavitt Partners’ findings is expected in June.

According to Howard Pallotta, general counsel for the Health Care Authority, the agency does not have to immediately release the draft report or PowerPoint images in response to an Oklahoma Watch request made under the Opens Records Act. He cited as a reason another statute that allows a public official, before taking action that includes making recommendations or issuing a report, to “keep confidential his or her personal notes and personally created materials … prepared as an aid to memory or research leading to the adoption of a public policy or the implementation of a public project.”

“Once the meeting is held,” Pallotta told Oklahoma Watch, “we then must release the PowerPoint that will be used to either start an action or end it.”

The regular Health Care Authority board meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. at its office in Oklahoma City. Nico Gomez, CEO for the authority, will present to the board Leavitt Partners’ preliminary findings.

Leavitt Partners was hired for $500,000 by the state last year to look at operation of the state’s Medicaid program, SoonerCare, as well as at health programs in other states that would expand health coverage and improve health outcomes. The company was hired several months after Gov. Mary Fallin announced she would reject federal funding to expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which meant about 200,000 Oklahomans newly eligible under the act would not get Medicaid starting in 2014.

Leavitt Partners is headed by former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt.

The consultant’s draft report contains only the findings of its months-long study, said Jo Kilgore, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority. The final report, which will be released June 30, will incorporate feedback from the state.

Referring to the PowerPoint images, she said, “Nothing is going to be released until the board meeting. We don’t want to get out in front of the board. In fairness, they need to see the presentation before it’s put out there.”

It’s not clear if the state will release Leavitt Partners’ preliminary findings after the final report is issued in June.

Leavitt Partners’ report could play a big role in the formation of a state health plan, as it will give the state data and information about what other states are doing to cover the uninsured and about Oklahoma’s current health system. State officials could implement some recommendations on their own; others might need approval from the Legislature.

During her State of the State Speech in February, Fallin announced that the state would be pursuing its own “Oklahoma plan,” focusing on improving health outcomes, reducing the cost of care and expanding access to health care.

Officials have said that one of the options being looked at by Leavitt Partners is the so-called Arkansas plan, in which federal money that would have gone toward Medicaid expansion would instead be used to purchase private insurance for residents who qualify.

The Arkansas proposal has received only verbal confirmation from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Several states that initially rejected Medicaid expansion have shown interest in pursuing a similar option.

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Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state.

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