Two days after Governor Keating vetoed an effort to lower insurance premiums by pumping additional funds into the state health board, his finance office endorsed the legislative initiative to bulk up the reserves of the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board (OSEEGIB). The endorsement came in a letter from the Oklahoma Office of State Finance to the federal government.
"One day Governor Keating is vetoing our attempt to lower the health insurance premiums of state employees, retirees and teachers; two days later his finance office is writing a letter in support of the legislative action. The contradiction is puzzling to say the least," said Senator Larry Dickerson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation.
In a letter dated February 27, 1998, two days after the veto, the Office of State Finance responded to a federal government inquiry about OSEEGIB's reserves. OSF disputed whether such a penalty was justified, further stating that "proposals are now being debated and developed in the legislative process" which will resolve the question.
The letter continued, "Perhaps the most significant proposal being developed is a direct appropriation of state money to the Oklahoma State Employees Group Insurance Fund, an appropriation designed primarily to prevent an increase in the premiums paid by group members, but directly addresses the federal claim."
Senator Dickerson wants to know if the letter is indicative of a change of heart by Governor Keating.
"Does this mean Governor Keating is now interested in helping state workers and their families or is he standing by his original veto? I think state employees, retirees and teachers deserve some clarification. They're the ones who are being hurt by the veto," said the Poteau legislator.
SB 1089 would have begun the process of pumping another $35.9 million into OSEEGIB, in addition to removing a freeze that kept participants locked in with their current health insurance carrier. It was designed to offset a recent increase in premiums.
Governor Keating vetoed the bill, however, saying he would prefer to privatize the state health program and didn't want to subsidize rates in the meantime. The Senate attempted to override the veto, but failed when all Republican members banded together to support the Governor's action.
"I don't know if they're aware of the letter and the apparent change of heart by the Governor's office. They might be willing to drop their opposition and cast a vote to help state employees, retirees and teachers," said Senator Dickerson.