Many Oklahoma Democrats speak up for new health care law

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 30-Mar-2010

With a key member of the state House leading the way, a number of prominent Democrats inside and outside of government have worked in the last 10 days to counter criticism of the new federal health care law.

A proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution to allow Oklahoma to “opt out” of the new national health care law could never go into effect because it violates the U.S. Constitution, Rep. Ryan Kiesel told legislators during a debate on the floor of the House of Representatives last week.

In his statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Kiesel pointed to debate over Senate Joint Resolution 59, which would ask voters to amend the state constitution to prohibit the federal government from requiring Oklahoma residents to buy health insurance.

Kiesel, an attorney from Seminole, dismissed Republican claims that there is debate in the legal community over the law’s constitutionality: “We have heard in this debate that there are constitutional scholars on both sides of this issue, but that is not true.”

Kiesel said one argument in support of S.J.R. 59 was the Doctrine of Nullification, holding that a state can declare a federal law to be un-Constitutional and therefore null and void within its borders. Kiesel said that the illegitimacy of nullification was established long ago.

Kiesel asserted critics of the law were wasting the time of the legislature by debating the subject, and will waste the hard-earned dollars of Oklahoma taxpayers if such questions are placed on the ballot. He said the U.S. Constitution and federal precedents provide ample support for the health care reforms and offer no support for the idea that Oklahoma can exempt itself from its provisions.

Rep. Terry Harrison, a McAlester Democrat, also dismissed S.J.R. 59, characterizing it as a “political shenanigan.” Rep. Mike Brown, a Tahlequah Democrat, offered an amendment that would have invalidated the resolution if passage of the proposed amendment led to a reduction or elimination of federal funds for Medicare or Medicaid. That amendment was tabled in a 58 to 36 vote that broke along party lines.

Todd Goodman, chairman of the state party, released a statement last Friday (March 26) countering what he called “health care myths” promulgated by Republicans. Goodman’s Friday release followed on the heels of an earlier declaration backing the law.

Goodman assailed “myth #1” as a contention that social security and Medicare programs will be cut under the new law. He asserted new reforms “will eliminate waste from Medicare, saving taxpayers billions of dollars – not only without compromising benefits, but while expanding benefits.” Goodman argued seniors on Medicare will see benefits expand under the reforms. Preventive care – such as colonoscopies and annual wellness visits – will be free. He said the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole” that hits more than 100,000 Oklahomans will close when seniors who hit it receive a $250 rebate to defray costs. Brand-name drugs for those in the “hole” will be discounted 50% beginning next year, and it will be completely closed by 2020, he said.

Goodman characterized as a second “myth” analyses showing that small business will be hurt by new costs. He said the “reality” is that “Tens of thousands of Oklahoma small businesses could qualify for a tax credit to make covering their employees more affordable.” Goodman contends the new law will boost economic activity, and continued, “The more small businesses can offer health insurance, the likelier they are to attract top-tier employees.”

The party chairman also the new law put affordable health insurance coverage “within reach of a large portion of our state’s uninsured, which means less cost to our state in the form of subsidizing uncompensated care.”

Goodman also said more than 300,000 Oklahomans will qualify for tax credits that will “ease the burden of monthly premiums.”

In all he said various provisions in the new law will bring more than 600,000 additional Oklahomans within reach of the health insurance market. He believes, further, the measure’s  “common-sense consumer protections” will prevent insurance companies from profiting through “small-print regulations that can be catastrophic to their customers.” As examples, he pointed measures in the new law that put lifetime caps on coverage, annual limits, and companies that drop benefits when insured persons get sick.

Offsetting the new regulations on insurers, Goodman said, is expansion of the insurance market by the new law’s addition of “millions of new customers who otherwise couldn’t afford their services.” Goodman also echoed the criticisms of Kiesel and other concerning the Republicans’ constitutional criticisms of the new legislation.

Also celebrating the new law, and assailing Republicans in the process, were three Oklahoma County Democratic Party officials. The trio sent their statement to CapitolBeatOK last Friday.

Al Lindley, former State Representative and Chairman of the county Democrats, said, “I thank God for the members of the U.S. House who braved scurrilous insults and unrelenting threats to do the right thing.” Marguerite Leon, Oklahoma County Democratic Party Vice Chair said, “After a century of Republicans and Democrats working towards a modern Health Care Plan, the President and Congress have delivered a thoughtful start. … Oklahomans will begin to feel the benefits immediately.” Also praising the new law was party secretary Tom Guild, who is now running for Congress.

Dr. Katherine Scheirman, an Oklahoma physician, retired Air Force Colonel and Regional Director of Doctors For America, also spoke out. She said, “As a physician, I am thrilled by the reform bill signed by President Obama, which represents a historic step toward fixing our dysfunctional health care system. It will allow over 31 million more Americans to get coverage, regulate insurance companies and prohibit discrimination around pre-existing conditions, strengthen primary care and our care delivery systems, and reduce the deficit by over $1 trillion in the next 20 years.”

Dr. Boyd Shook, Oklahoma City physician and founder of Manos Juntas Free Medical Clinic stated, “We had to have reform. Too many people are not covered or are inadequately covered. This insurance reform is a place from which we can start.”