Oklahoma voters will decide on health care opt out

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 25-May-2010

Oklahoma lawmakers voted today (Tuesday, September 25) to give Oklahomans an opportunity to change the state constitution to opt out of a federal health care mandate requiring them to purchase expensive health care policies.

Senate Joint Resolution 59, by state Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa and state Rep. Mike Thompson of Oklahoma City, will appear on the November 2 ballot. If approved by the people, the state measure would prohibit any penalty for failure to purchase insurance and allow doctors to continue to accept direct payment.

“This constitutional amendment will provide Oklahomans with a powerful legal protection against the federal government’s attempt to insert itself into everyday decisions that affect their finances and health,” Thompson, a Republican, said. “It is clear that the federal government’s legislation will force insurance rates to rise while at the same time requiring that everyone purchase insurance. The passage of the federal mandate was met with outrage in Oklahoma, and we are adamant that Oklahomans have a chance to reject it.”

“I applaud Representative Thompson and the House for passing SJR 59,” Newberry, also a Republican, said. “It’s not often that we’re able to bring to the vote of a people an issue that affects every member of our citizenry like this vital bill on health care.”

The constitutional amendment bypasses the governor, who recently vetoed a statutory measure to block the federal health care mandate and authorize legislative leaders to litigate against the mandates in the new federal legislation.

“In many ways, a constitutional amendment gives Oklahomans better protection than the statutory change would have,” Thompson said. “Now that the statutory change has been struck down, it is the only protection Oklahomans will have, if they approve it. States have the authority to protect the liberty of their citizens.”

“Today’s passage of SJR 59 will allow the people of Oklahoma to speak for themselves regarding the nationalization of our health care policy,” Newberry said. “I believe it is imperative that we as a people make our voices known and send a resounding message to Washington, D.C. I look forward to a passage of the amendment after a vote of the people.”

S.J.R. 59 is based on American Legislative Exchange Council’s model Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act. The measure has already been enacted in statute form by the Virginia, Idaho, and Arizona legislatures, and constitutional amendments will appear on the Arizona and Florida ballots. Statutory measures have also passed one chamber in Missouri and Tennessee, and active citizen initiatives are underway in Colorado, Michigan, and Mississippi.

“Senate Joint Resolution 59 will shield Oklahoma from a federal takeover of our healthcare system,” Thompson said. “Clearly a close, functional relationship between doctors and their patients is preferable to one dictated by the federal government.”

Another leading opponent of the mandates contained in what he calls “Obamacare” is state Rep. Mike Ritze. In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Ritze praised the Thompson-Newberry  constitutional amendment.

“In light of the governor’s veto of my legislation to protect Oklahomans from the federal health care mandates and the failure of the Senate to override him, I am very pleased to see this constitutional amendment pass,” said Ritze, a physician and surgeon. “The constitutional amendment puts the decision directly in the people’s hands and I think it is clear what their decision will be.”

The Broken Arrow Republican said the federal health care mandates are widely unpopular in the state.

The battle over the federal health care bill has been strenuous in Oklahoma, provoking passionate debate in both houses of the Legislature. State officials have also engaged in the debate, especially just before and after Attorney General Drew Edmondson’s decision to stay out of litigation against the new federal law.

“Oklahomans traditionally prefer local solutions to problems and would rather see the federal government stick to the protection of our country and the security of our borders,” Ritze said. “Most would prefer to retain their current relationship with their health care provider rather than see the federal government step in and drive the few rural doctors we have out of business and mandate that we purchase health care insurance.”

The popular vote on the issue will place directly before the voters a legal firestorm that has remained intense for several months.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.