Pumped-up gas prices?

Exxon gas station owner Bob Walsh is upset that his cost for the gas he sells is going up 7 cents a gallon this morning at his station on Ashley Phosphate Road. He blames the commodities market for helping to drive up the price, not supply and demand.

The independent committee charged with deciding how the state should implement federal health care reform spent about $305,000 of a $1 million federal grant, according to a final budget report released Monday.

The spending included $167,000 for a study on the number of uninsured South Carolinians, $109,000 for personnel and $3,000 for travel and meals.

All states that received "Exchange Planning" grants must submit final spending reports to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

South Carolina's spending, however, could get additional federal scrutiny.

Late last year, Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, requested a federal investigation of the state's grant spending. Citing a report in The Post and Courier, he asked whether Gov. Nikki Haley's administration "made improper use of taxpayer funds" and "whether that grant should be returned to the federal government in full."

The governor's office dismissed the request, and a spokeswoman for Harkin said Monday she had no updates about the senator's request for an investigation.

Haley drew fire in December when the newspaper reported that she ordered the S.C. Health Planning Committee's findings in March, before the group met for the first time. The committee's eventual report mirrored Haley's directive in a March email that "the whole point of this commission should be to figure out how to opt out and how to avoid a federal takeover, NOT create a state exchange."

Tony Keck, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, was among the recipients of Haley's email. Keck, an influential committee member, wrote key portions of the group's November report.

A central part of the federal health care overhaul, insurance exchanges are the state- or federally-established marketplaces where health coverage will be sold to individuals and small-business employees beginning in 2014. States that decline to set up their own exchanges are subject to federally run ones.

The state submitted its final report to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday, according to documents released Monday. The committee "concluded that the state cannot implement state-based health insurance exchanges," the report said. It cited "insufficient federal guidance" among the reasons for its decision.

Reach Renee Dudley at 937-5550.