Health care debate reintensifies in competing state Capitol press conferences

 Republicans in the Oklahoma state Senate unveiled their formal legislative agenda for 2011 on Wednesday, including a strong emphasis on market-oriented health care reforms and renewed challenges to the new federal health care law they have dubbed “ObamaCare.”
Activist Democrats from Oklahoma County, meanwhile, strongly defended the federal law, and issued a plea to U.S. House Republican leaders not to kill it. 

Competing press conferences were held within an hour of one another, allowing strongly clashing views to vie for the attention of reporters at the state Capitol.
At the GOP agenda session for journalists, bullet points were presented to assert the party’s commitment “to affordable and accessible health care.” 

These included promises to support Governor Mary Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt in constitutional challenges to the federal law, and “lawsuit reform so doctors can continue to practice in Oklahoma without malpractice rates forcing them to leave or limit their patient care.”

Republicans further promised to “attack fraud and abuse within the Medicaid system.”
The senators committed further their determination to “encourage doctors to stay in Oklahoma and practice in under-served and rural areas to ensure access to quality health care for all.”
Republicans distinguished their state agenda from the national law in part by supporting “greater use of Health Savings Accounts.” They expressed hopes to build “on the success of Insure Oklahoma.”
At their event, the county Democrats argued it is “irresponsible to vote on repealing health reform, when there has been no alternative proposal to address the problems of uninsured Americans, high healthcare costs, and an inefficient healthcare market.”

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, county Democrat chairman Al Lindley said, “I am deeply disappointed in privileged individuals, who have the best health care coverage that tax dollars can buy, denying even the basic coverage for others." Lindley is a former member of the state House.
Marguerite Leon, Vice Chair for the county Democrats, commented, “Right now in Oklahoma, there are women who were uninsured and who now have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. There are women who have better access to contraception, osteoporosis and cancer screenings and various other preventive services. It also holds the promise of giving women access to prescription birth control without co-pays.
“These are important contributions to making life better for women in Oklahoma. But [U.S.] House Republicans led by [Speaker] John Boehner will vote to end the law that keeps insurance companies from denying coverage of pre-existing conditions.”
Dr. Tom Guild, the county party secretary who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in last year’s Fifth District Congressional primary, declared in his statement: “Congress should not repeal our new health care law. We need to keep insurance companies honest. We don’t want to go backwards and deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions and cancel coverage when people get sick. Insurance companies would once again be able to promote their own financial health at the expense of those needing health care.
“Repeal will add an estimated $230 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years. It blows an additional hole in the national deficit that will further delay our economic recovery. Clearly repeal is not the right thing to do.”

The county Democrats pointed hopefully to an Associated Press-GFK poll released on Monday which “found that only about 1 in 4 people support repealing the law. A marked decrease in support for repeal was present even among Republicans, where support dropped from 61 percent to 49 percent.”
Lindley said, “If Republicans have ideas, they should work with Democrats to make the bill we already have better — not repeal It. That is what the American people want.” The local Democrats asserted dire consequences if the new law is repealed, including, in wording from their release, the following:
– Increase the deficit by $230 billion over the next 10 years.
– Your insurance could be cancelled if you get sick.
– Children from age 18 to 26 would get kicked off their parent’s policies.
– Insurance companies could once again deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
– Many people with preexisting illnesses won’t be able to afford health insurance.
– Tax credits for small businesses to help pay for insurance for their employees will go away.
– Tax credits for businesses to help them afford to offer health insurance to retirees between the ages of 55 to 65 will be cut.
– Insurance companies will no longer have to spend 80-85% of your premiums on actual health care, and instead can again pay huge bonuses to their executives.
– Co-payments and deductibles for preventive health care and screening tests like mammograms will come back.
– Seniors in the donut hole will pay much more for their medications.
– Investments in computerizing medical records, training more doctors in primary care, and more health clinics in rural areas would be cut.
– The Affordable Care Act created a new program called the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program which provides $5 billion in financial assistance to employers and unions to help them maintain coverage for early retirees age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare.
As reported previously by CapitolBeatOK, a large number of Oklahoma companies are already participating in the latter program, including Devon Energy, the Oklahoma Publishing Company and OGE Energy Corp.
Arguing for the Republican view of health care controversies, Sen. Clark Jolley, an Edmond Republican, told reporters today, “The heath care bill is being debated in Washington, D.C., even as we speak. It is unconstitutional to force anyone to purchase insurance. We want to thank our former colleague Scott Pruitt for fighting against the federal health care mandate and promising to litigate to correct this wrong. We also applaud Governor Mary Fallin for supporting him in his efforts.”
Pegging “lawsuit reform” to the interests of Oklahoma’s medical providers, he observed, “We are pushing lawsuit reform as a way to create a more business-friendly environment in Oklahoma. We need to do this not only for business in general but also to encourage doctors to continue practicing in this state.”
Concerning the underserved areas, Sen. Jolley said, “It is absolutely clear that there are underserved areas in the state. We have to find ways to increase the number of health care providers and professionals at all levels.”
Jolley argued that effective programs like Insure Oklahoma and support for Health Savings Accounts help assure “consumers have ‘skin in the game’ in monitoring their own health care expenses.”