Rep. Hamilton follows independent path on insurance policy issues

State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton plans to craft and introduce a resolution asking Congress to overturn controversial new federal regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The strictures mandate private insurance coverage of abortion and artificial birth control, among other new health insurance changes. 

The Oklahoma City Democrat’s efforts come as a statement from Catholic Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City has energized some faith communities against the new regulations, at least in Oklahoma.

Hamilton’s advocacy continues her independent path in the Legislature, where she often agrees with Democratic positions on economic concerns, but aligns with the pro-life views of many legislative Republicans. In another policy area, she has also supported Oklahoma’s steady shift toward more inclusive parental choice policies in education.

While passionately opposing the Obama administration’s new insurance mandates, she is simultaneously criticizing a recent state Insurance Department shift in regulations touching “child only” policies.

Hamilton said, in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, “I believe these new HHS regulations are a deliberate attempt to force religious groups, in particular and specifically the Catholic Church, to cede their teaching authority regarding moral issues to the government.”

New rules from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are requiring Catholic hospitals to provide employee insurance coverage for abortifacients. A religious conscience or morality exemption was so narrowly crafted in the Obama administration’s rules that it excludes hospitals, schools and other religious charities, critics say.

Hamilton commented, “This policy directly orders religious institutions to violate their own moral beliefs concerning core issues of the sanctity of human life. For years, I’ve heard the argument that Christians, if they don’t believe in abortion, just shouldn’t have one and leave the rest of the world alone. This policy goes the next step and says that Christian organizations must either provide abortion funding for their employees or close down shop.
“In addition the HHS regulations violate promises made to the American people and Catholic leaders who supported passage of the new federal health care law.”

Many U.S. Catholic organizations, including some hospitals, defied the nation’s Catholic bishops and supported the Obama administration’s health care law, trusting assurances that traditional protections of conscience would be preserved.

Hamilton reflected, “I am very reluctant to attribute motives regarding public policy moves, but religious leaders, especially the Catholic bishops, have attempted to work with the government to change this policy for months. The issues have been thoroughly and publicly discussed. Supporters of the policy have made speeches demonstrating that they understand what they are doing and that they intend to do it anyway.
“All this leaves me with no option but to accept that this is a deliberate, almost malicious, attack on the religious freedoms of all Americans, but Roman Catholics specifically. It has every appearance of a calculated attempt to drive the Church out of participation in public life by forcing it to shut down its hospitals, aid organizations and other institutions. This regulation must be overturned.
“These rules violate the basic separation of church and state we all hold dear, and give the appearance of being a direct government attack on the rights of people of faith to practice their religion without government interference. Congress should not hesitate to overturn this intrusive, unnecessary and counterproductive regulation.”

Last weekend, Catholics across Oklahoma heard a letter from Archbishop Coakley read at weekend Masses (January 28 and 29) in which he expressed shock and indignation over the new regulations, deeming them an “unprecedented intrusion by the federal government.” 

In today’s editions of The Oklahoman, Brian Hobbs of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma made clear that Oklahoma’s Southern Baptists have many of the same concerns as Coakley about the new “HHS mandate,” particularly “as it affects religious liberty and the dignity of human life.”

The Obama administration contends the new rules strike a balance between “access to medical services” and religious liberty. 

The Legislature reconvenes on Monday (February 6) to hear Governor Mary Fallin’s State of the State address and begin to tackle hundreds of possible changes in state law. Among those proposals is another Hamilton bill taking aim at a regulatory change coming from Insurance Commissioner John Doak.

Hamilton wants to reverse a state Insurance Department rule that has allowed insurance companies operating in Oklahoma to deny “infant-only” coverage for children under the age one. The change is driven by the economics of the federal health care law, defenders of the Doak’s rule say.

Hamilton’s House Bill 2911 would provide any insurance provider “advertising, offering or selling a health insurance policy that covers only a child or children in the state shall offer the policy for any child under the age of 18 years.  If the insurance provider does not offer or sell health insurance policies for children under the age of one year, the insurance provider shall not be allowed to advertise, offer or sell any insurance policies for children in the state.”

Hamilton says Colorado and Arkansas have similar laws. Her law, she asserts, would benefit roughly 1,000 children not covered by existing Medicaid or family plan provisions. 

Child-only insurance has been a means for, among others, grandparents raising children to obtain insurance coverage for those children. In addition to her criticisms of the state Insurance regulatory change, Hamilton asserts a decision by the Oklahoma High Risk Pool to provide newborn coverage left the market open only to plans bearing expensive premiums.