For years, independent state agency boards and the legislature were in charge of vetting and putting qualified people in charge to make decisions based on the public interest – not politics. Governor Stitt and the state legislature changed that in 2019. Stitt now has the ability to hire and fire directors for some of the most important agencies in the state. He also gained the ability to appoint and remove the formerly independent board members of those agencies.
After voters approved Medicaid expansion, Stitt began to abuse that power. He sought to privatize Medicaid and send billions of taxpayer dollars to insurance companies. The legislature refused to give Stitt the authority he needed, forcing the state Supreme Court to rule that his plan was unconstitutional when his administration handed out contracts anyhow.
Even with the court’s ruling, Stitt did not give up on his approach. In August 2021, the Stitt administration sought approval of emergency rules at an Oklahoma Health Care Authority board meeting to open the door for the agency to once again push taxpayer dollars to private insurance companies. The previously independent board voted to table the idea due to the Supreme Court’s ruling. About a week later, Stitt dismissed the only two medical doctors who sat on the agency board. Stitt’s replacements then voted along with two other members of the board, 4-3, to move the emergency rules forward in November 2021.
Stitt’s decision to replace qualified doctors with overtly political appointments has left elected leaders from both parties rethinking the legislature’s decision to hand over so much power to the governor. Oklahoma has gone through three Commissioners of Health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Debate over Gov. Kevin Stitt’s power renewed after governor removes health officials, Oklahoman, 9/19/21
- Oklahoma Health Care Authority board passes rules that some say could reopen door for managed care, Oklahoman, 11/18/21
- Oklahoma chooses vendors for $2 billion program partially privatizing Medicaid, The Frontier, 1/29/21
- Managed care push brings a flow of campaign cash and lobbying that is likely to continue, The Frontier, 2/8/21