Health Care News Analysis

Health care legislation pending in Washington has garnered the praise of three leading Oklahoma Democrats, including two legislators.

But the only Democrat in the Sooner State’s congressional delegation opposed another version of the measure when it passed in the U.S. House. At the state Capitol, determined Republicans plan to fight the expansion of federal power inherent in what they term “Obamacare.”

In recent press releases, state battle lines over the undeniably historic health care legislation were clearly drawn, with dramatically different views about both policy and price implications of the federal proposal.

Mike Shelton, representing much of Oklahoma City’s eastside, and Ryan Kiesel of Seminole praised President Barack Obama and U.S. Senate Democrats after they forced the measure on Christmas Eve.

The two Democrats praised the measure, saying it will expand coverage to 30 million Americans now without insurance coverage, including an estimated 300,000 Oklahomans.

“After seven decades of trying, we are one step closer to relieving Americans from the fear of getting sick and losing everything they own,” Rep. Kiesel said in his statement. “The goal of universal coverage is far from achieved, nevertheless the legislation’s clearing of partisan hurdles in the Senate is a seminal event. As our Nation and the world grapple with unprecedented challenges, it is reassuring to know progress is possible, even in the midst of the most dizzying adversity.”

For his part, Shelton said, “I hope and pray that this legislation makes it to the finish line. Over 300,000 of the 700,000 Oklahomans who are uninsured would finally have access to medical care, and be able to live healthier lifestyles.”

Also praising Senate action passing the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” was state Democratic Party chairman Todd Goodman, who argued it marked "a victory for all Oklahomans. After decades of work from Presidents to Congressmen to everyday families, this is a historic moment in achieving comprehensive health reform.” Goodman characterized the bill as “the greatest deficit-reduction package passed in the last decade.” He assailed “unfair insurance industry practices” and said the bill will shrink the federal deficit by more than $130 billion in the coming decade.

Goodman cheered the measure as delivering on promises to reduce costs, provide quality affordable choices for the insured and stability and security for those already covered. He criticized U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe for opposing the bill, but did not note Democrat U.S. Rep. Dan Boren’s earlier opposition to the U.S. House version of the measure.

State Senate President Pro Temp Glenn Coffee, an Oklahoma City Republican, was sharply critical of what he called, in a Christmas Eve release, a “Ho-Ho-Horrible” bill. In his statement, Coffee assailed U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

“While Harry Reid sells his soul and financial indulgences for the votes of his fellow Democrat senators this Christmas season, all he will leave for Oklahoma taxpayers will be a multi-year, multi-million dollar lump of coal, and a cumbersome, unaffordable system that will disenfranchise more citizens than it will help. This is the ultimate Dirty Santa gift that we can’t pass off to someone else.”

Contending against asserted cost savings, Coffee used a Congressional Budget Office estimate that a series of amendments gaining late support from key Democrats will cost taxpayers at least $1.2 billion. Tagging the proposal a “Christmas Catastrophe,” Coffee said, “We can count our blessings during this season of joy for Oklahoma’s federal delegation, but Washington needs a little more Oklahoma common sense.”

A trio of Oklahoma Republican legislators said they would press for passage of a “Freedom of Healthcare Choice Act” to offset the federal measure.

Broken Arrow Rep. Mike Ritze, a medical doctor, said, “It’s clear the overwhelming majority of Americans want the current doctor-patient relationship preserved instead of having Washington bureaucrats dictate medical decisions. The proposals under consideration in Congress are likely to result in reduced access to a family doctor, rationing of services, or even outright denial of care if a pencil-pusher decides it is not a ‘best practice.’ My legislation would give the voters the ability to protect and preserve their existing health care coverage.”

In his statement, state Rep. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City said, “The United States’ health care system is the envy of the world and the people of Oklahoma should have the opportunity to maintain the top-notch care they have received while also avoiding the onerous burdens the proposed federal law would impose on working families.”

Senate sponsor of the measure Ritze and Reynolds are advancing is state Sen. Randy Brogdon of Owasso, a candidate for governor. U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, favored in her primary joust against Brogdon, opposed House passage of the measure several weeks ago. Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmondson support reform but have not endorsed the legislation now before Congress.

About the author: Pat McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK, an online news service with offices at the Oklahoma state capitol. He remains capitol editor for Tulsa Today.