"I said, 'Phil, I can't do this,'" Chaney recalled. He told the governor the state was contractually obligated to its vendors. Pressure continued. In August, one of the governor's attorneys asked Chaney to withdraw the plan's blueprint from federal consideration. That same month, a confidant of Chaney's who sat Reduce Weight Fruta Planta on the state government's Personnel Board called to state Bryant had requested the board delay approval of a $3.5 million, federally funded ACA outreach contract designed to make residents conscious of their coverage options. It would never be authorized. Inside a letter to Chaney, Bryant acknowledged the board had blocked the contract. "I function not consider it a sensible utilization of taxpayer dollars," he wrote.
As Barbour's second in command, Bryant had publicly supported the then-governor's push for any free-market exchange in Mississippi, however Bryant wrote to Chaney, "I haven't supported exchanges because they will operate under Obamacare," which "will not be market-based in any significant sense" and depends on "massive and unaffordable federal subsidies."
Still, Chaney fought on, and in October 2012, a complete year prior to the federal government's website opened, his OneMississippi.com went live. The passageways to numerous federal databases had yet to be built and consumers couldn't yet qualify for subsidies, but health plans were on sale. The site still needed approval in the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the federal body that oversees the health care exchanges, before it may be an official ACA-sanctioned marketplace, and Chaney's staff have been in weekly connection with CCIIO's director, Gary Cohen, to make sure OneMississippi.com would eventually comply.
But after Obama's reelection in November 2012 explained his health law was headed toward implementation, Bryant chose to fight. Chaney wrote to CCIIO's Cohen saying it had been "our intent to apply and manage a state-based exchange for the citizens of Mississippi that's tailored towards the unique needs in our state." He continued: "As an elected official and the chief officer from the Department of Insurance, I'm authorized by state law to submit this Exchange Declaration Letter on behalf of the State of Mississippi." Bryant fired off his own letter to Sebelius, insisting that he was at "complete disagreement" with Chaney. By now, Chaney and Bryant's relationship had deteriorated to the point that Chaney needed to obtain a copy of the letter from federal regulators. "I am disappointed with the submission of that letter, and I am exploring my options," the governor wrote, adding the healthcare exchange would be a "gateway" for any law he opposed.
As the pitched political drama escalated, the objections among Tea Party activists piled-up. An Obamacare-sanctioned exchange, using its generous subsidies, "would just invite more and more people on welfare and public assistance to flock to our state," Laura VanOverschelde, chairwoman from the Mississippi Tea Party, told me. What's more, she added, the types of plans on the market around the exchange "mimicked an old premise - that's health maintenance organizations in the 80s." Those plans "dismally failed," VanOverschelde said, "because individuals will simply not do what they need to, to take care of themselves. And Mississippi is a prime example."
CCIIO remained quiet about Mississippi's application all fall and into early winter. But by January, Chaney had lost his patience with Cohen. "I asked him point blank, 'Damn it, Cohen, are you going to approve this or not?'" Later that week, Cohen called to state that Sebelius was rejecting Mississippi's exchange, citing Bryant's insufficient support. "As an operating matter, it wasn't likely to work," Cohen told me. Chaney's exchange might have needed cooperation from the state Medicaid Super Slim Pomegranate agency led with a Bryant appointee, and the governor could easily stymie funding and hiring decisions. "We'd didn't feel that we should get involved with a battle between two elected state officials," Cohen said.
Mississippi, ever the collector of unenviable distinctions, had become the only state to possess its exchange application rejected through the federal government. On Valentine's, after four months of operation, OneMississippi.com went dark.