Challenge to federal health care bill gains Senate approval

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 04-May-2010

The Oklahoma state Senate approved a resolution authorizing legislative leaders to challenge the new federal health care bill, and providing state protections against mandates requiring that individuals and businesses participate in the new law, signed into law by President Barack Obama last month.

Senator Randy Brogdon of Owasso, Republican author of House Joint Resolution 1054, argued passionately for the proposal, co-authored with state Rep. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow.

Questioning Sen. Brogdon at length and/or arguing against his bill during debate were Democratic Senators Richard Lerblance of Hartshorne, Jim Wilson of Tahlequah, Tom Adelson of Tulsa, Judy Eason McIntyre of Tulsa, Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, and Charlie Laster of Shawnee. Sen. Earl Garrison of Muskogee spoke briefly in closing debate to support a point Laster had made about impact on state-provided health insurance.

Sen. Brogdon carried the entire debate in support of the measure.

The measure amends state law to allow Oklahomans to opt out of the federal health care legislation and retain insurance coverage of their choice. The measure also authorizes Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee and House Speaker Chris Benge to litigate against the bill on constitutional grounds, including mandates. Pressed to explain how advocates would pay for litigation costs, Sen. Brogdon said the Goldwater Institute (a Phoenix, Arizona “think tank”) has promised to support state litigation costs.

Lerblance pressed on the cost issue and described H.C.R. 1054 as  “frivolous.” Wilson contended Oklahoma’s poor health indicators would “not be helped in any way” by passage of the measure.

Brogdon said the resolution defends the rights and liberties of Oklahomans, and that health care outcomes would be better “if we, and not politicians or bureaucrats, make decisions about our health care needs. I don’t believe we are better off in any way if we are dictated to about our health care.”

Brogdon contended the federal government should not expand powers beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. Sen. Eason McIntyre, who is African American, said Brodgon’s exhortations to follow what America’s Founding Fathers intended was incorrect because “what they wrote was tainted” by the existence of slavery at the nation’s establishment.

Eason McIntyre also criticized “the other side” for not speaking up “against illegal wire taps” and other matters during the Bush Administration. Brogdon reminded colleagues he had opposed the Patriot Act and other expansions of federal powers.

Senators Rice and Brodgon had exchanges on privacy, principles of Americanism and the efficacy of tort reform as a solution for health care costs. Rice chided Brogdon and other Republicans for referring to the new law as “tyrannical,” while Brogdon defended what he called “a quiet revolution adhering to the rule of law.”

Sen. Laster’s questioning was focused on what he thought could be “unintended consequences” undermining mandated coverage of state government employees, but Brogdon countered the bill only applied as protective against the new federal law.

In closing debate, Sen. Wilson pointed to France as a model for health care, while Sen. Adelson argued the Veterans Administration does a better job than private sector insurance, and for lower cost.  Sen. Lerblance, in debate, said, “This time next year, there will be no progress” on issues his Republican colleagues said need to be addressed. Sen. Eason McIntyre said U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn “should know better” than to fight against the new health care bill. She begged colleagues “to vote against this bad bill.”

In his closing remarks, Brogdon pointed to cost increases, health care rationing and other problems in systems he characterized as “socialized medicine” in countries like New Zealand, Sweden and Canada. 

On final Senate passage, the measure was approved 25-17. Senators Kenneth Corn of Poteau and Jerry Ellis of Valliant were the only Democrats in support. Missing for the final vote were Republican Senators Harry Coates of Seminole, Mike Mazzei of Tulsa, and Mike Johnson of Kingfisher, and Democrats Susan Paddack of Ada, Jay Paul Gumm of Durant, and Charles Wyrick of Fairland.

When the bill passed the state House last week, Rep. Ritze, one of two physicians serving in the Legislature, explained the measure’s shift from a referred constitutional measure to a statutory provision:

“We changed the legislation, because Oklahoma citizens demanded we do something immediately rather than wait until November. We also added a provision for the Legislature to file suit against the constitutionality of ObamaCare. The unfunded state mandates included in the federal plan and forcing citizens to buy pricey health insurance policies they may not need is simply overstepping the authority of the U.S. Congress.”

The measure is designed, advocates say, to protect persons, employers and health care providers from being forced to participate in the federal health care system. It allows doctors to accept direct payment or services, without financial penalty.

Dr. Ritze said, “This legislation will give Congress and President Barack Obama pause to see this strong show of opposition to the federal legislation. In Oklahoma, there is great opposition to mandating that everyone buy expensive health insurance. The federal system represents a radical change towards socialized medicine and could easily hurt rural Oklahoma’s access to quality care. That’s why we are going to do our best to fight it.”

Despite procedural attempts to block a vote when it came before the House last week, H.J.R. 1054 passed 71-27.

The bill prevailed in the Senate without an emergency clause attached, a provision necessary to put the measure into effect immediately after the governor’s signature.

Due to a motion from Sen. Clark Jolley, an Edmond Republican, the Senate may reconsider the bill within three legislative days, with advocates seeking the emergency provision.

If the governor signs the bill without the emergency, it will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns sometime before May 28.