Controversy Arises around Governor’s Veto

According to OPEA sources, the Governor’s veto of SB 2052 (Coffee, Benge) last week was a forgone conclusion and done to protect the interests of wife Kim Henry and long-time family friend attorney Richard Bell.

Bell, of Norman, has been a steady donor to Henry and his chief advisor Treasurer Scott Meacham’s campaign accounts. In addition, Henry utilized Bell’s Norman office to run portions of his election campaign.

Henry placed Bell’s son, Dr. John Bell of Norman, on the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents in 2005. Dr. Bell is associated with the Oklahoma City Clinic, which is linked to Global Health. SB 2052 could have cost Global Health, a state HMO vendor, customers by forcing them to compete for an account.

According to news sources, Henry is a long-time friend of the Bells and has accompanied them on frequent fishing trips, Richard Bell serves as the president of the Sarkeys Foundation in Norman, which hired Kim Henry as its executive director a year ago.

“It appears that the Governor’s priorities are protecting his wife’s job and the business interests of his cronies, not the state and education employees that serve the people of Oklahoma,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “The insurance reform process has been taking shape for over a year beginning with the State Employee Health Insurance Review Working Group during the interim. The group, comprised of a bipartisan group of legislators and the Insurance Commissioner, met with insurance experts to arrive at some fundamental reforms to improve the health insurance product.”

SB 2052 would have required a competitive, winner-take-all bidding process for a statewide HMO to offer both state and education employees. The result would have been lowering of the cost of the HMOs, which according to industry experts, have been overpricing state employee HMOs by as much as 40 percent. Also, rural state employees would have been offered the same choices as their urban counterparts. To protect existing state employees from losing money, SB 2052 would have frozen the benefit allowance and indexed it to the cost of the basic HealthChoice insurance plan.

As an excuse for vetoing the bill, Henry accused the legislature of not properly vetting the legislation. According to House Speaker Chris Benge the legislation was fully vetted and was in process for over a year.

“This legislation, which would have streamlined state and education employee health insurance in an effort to lower costs for both the state and workers, is a common sense reform that has been in the works for well over a year,” said Benge in a press release. “All stakeholders were involved in the crafting of this legislation. The legislation was supported overwhelmingly in the House and Senate and was endorsed by OPEA and OEA. Rejection of this legislation will allow health care costs to continue to spiral out of control for our state, which is a major concern for every agency and state and education employee. It is not accurate to say that this legislation was not properly vetted.”

“OPEA worked very hard to protect state employees’ benefits and pay,” said Zearley. “These allegations place a shadow over the Governor’s motivation behind this veto, which could potentially cost state employees money.”

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