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Tulsa lawmaker plans bill in response to physicians' dismissal from Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board
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Tulsa lawmaker plans bill in response to physicians' dismissal from Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A Tulsa lawmaker on Tuesday said he wants to take the politics out of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, said he has introduced legislation, House Bill 2971, to alter how members of the board that governs the Oklahoma Health Care Authority are appointed, reducing the power of Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority administers the state’s Medicaid program.

Stitt recently removed two of his appointees, both physicians, from the board without explanation.

Dr. Jean Hausheer, a Lawton ophthalmologist, and Dr. Laura Shamblin, an Oklahoma City pediatrician, had been the only doctors on the board. They were immediate replaced by Susan Dell’Osso, a communications and marketing specialist, and Gino DeMarco, a retired oil and gas executive who served as Stitt’s PPE czar in the early days of the pandemic.

The move came after the OHCA board voted to table two administrative rules sought by OHCA Director Kevin Corbett, also a Stitt appointee. Hausheer said last week that she thought the governor was “trying to push through a managed care agenda through administrative rules and the Health Care Authority board.”

Stitt has pushed for managed care, something opposed by several lawmakers and medical groups. The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled that the governor did not have the power to implement managed care.

Lawmakers in 2019 gave Stitt more authority over boards and commissions, including the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

Senate Bill 456 gave the governor the ability to hire, fire and set the salary of the OHCA director. It also increased the number of Oklahoma Health Care Authority board members to nine from seven.

The measure increased the number of appointees given to the governor from three to five.

The House speaker and Senate pro tem each have two appointees.

Nichols said his bill would restore the requirement that at least two of the governor’s appointees must be consumers of the state Medicaid system and at least one must be licensed to practice medicine in Oklahoma.

Nichols said his measure would restore language with regard to board member experience and regard for geographic, gender and racial diversity. It would change the terms of board members, he said, to align to the term of their appointer.

The measure also would restore language to the OHCA administrator requirements, Nichols said.

Under the measure, initial stages of OHCA administrator appointments would move from the governor to the OHCA board, which would submit three names to the governor for approval.

Under the measure, the administrator would serve at the pleasure of the board.

“The governor’s actions over the last couple of weeks regarding the Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board have highlighted his inability to make decisions absent politics,” Nichols said. “The governor shouldn’t have ever been in the position to allow politics to interfere with the delivery of services. Fortunately, there is an easy fix when it comes to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.”

Nichols acknowledges that he has an uphill battle to get the bill passed.

Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both legislative chambers, strongly supported giving Stitt more power over executive agencies.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said her caucus opposed the measures giving Stitt more power. She said House Democrats will make it an issue during the next legislative session.


Featured video:

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks in Tulsa about Oklahoma's Medicaid expansion

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