Fri February 15, 2008
By Michael McNutt
House of Representatives members passed a bill Thursday that would place restrictions on new health insurance mandates, a move opponents say puts insurance companies' profits ahead of the medical needs of Oklahomans.
Rep. Ron Peterson, author of House Bill 3111, said his measure is intended to take a closer look at the cost of insurance mandates in an attempt to reduce the price of health insurance, which could offset price increases for Oklahoma insurance policy holders.
But opponents said the bill is bad for consumers.
"This bill essentially allows the insurance industry to kill future bills that would provide life-saving procedures to Oklahomans,” said Rep. Ryan Kiesel, D-Seminole.
"Our job isn't to look at profits ... our job is to look at people.”
A health insurance mandate is a requirement that an insurance company or health plan offer certain benefits.
Legislators in the past have passed laws requiring insurance companies to cover mammography screenings, diabetes treatments, prostate cancer screenings and other procedures.
Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman, said that if HB 3111 had been in place earlier, insurance companies would never have covered those procedures.
The measure passed 53 to 46, mostly along party lines. All Republicans except two — including Doug Cox of Grove, the only doctor in the chamber — voted for it. All Democrats voted against it. HB 3111 now goes to the Senate.
"I am confident that we will get the spirit of the bill enacted,” said Peterson, R-Broken Arrow. Small businesses and The State Chamber have expressed support for the proposal, he said.
The mandates are an extra cost to insurance companies and those costs are passed on to those with insurance policies, he said.
Kiesel and other Democrats said rising pharmaceutical costs and the cost of uninsured citizens dwarf mandate costs. "It is repugnant that an insurance company that takes your dollars won't cover an exam that can save your life,” Kiesel said.
‘Making smart decisions'
HB 3111 would require a cost-benefit analysis to be done. The organization or person requesting the covered health benefit — not legislative staff — would pay for the study's cost.
The study would give legislators the opportunity to rely more on information than emotions, Peterson said. "They're very hard to say no to,” Peterson said of requests for mandates. "This is about making smart decisions.”
The measure also would limit lawmakers from introducing and passing a bill mandating coverage unless the bill is introduced in an odd-numbered year, and then may be acted upon by legislators in an even numbered year.
"What this bill was all about was the insurance industry saying we want more time to be able to kill any mandate bill that comes down the pike,” said Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City.
Peterson said he was not asked by insurance companies to present the bill. He looked at what other states were doing, and borrowed language from an Arizona law.
Asked on the House floor why the cost of the study was placed on those asking for the mandate, Peterson said no one on the House staff was certified to perform the study and he didn't want to cause additional expenses for the state by having to hire additional staff.
Kiesel said the bill rewards insurance companies and punishes families who must pay the high cost of insurance. "We're not asking insurance companies to do something that's out of the ordinary,” he said. "We're asking them to do something that they should be doing already.”