By MICK HINTON World Capitol Bureau 2/15/2008
Insurance Bill stirs up dispute
It would restrict some medical legislation to biennial consideration.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Legislation to force insurance companies to pay for certain medical procedures could be considered by the Legislature only every other year, according to a controversial bill approved Thursday by the House. House Bill 3111 is needed to curb escalating insurance costs that are passed on to policyholders, said its author, Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow.
But Rep. Scott Inman, D-Oklahoma City, said the bill would give lobbyists two years to kill bills that insurance companies don't like. Over the last few decades, lawmakers have passed 14 insurance coverage mandates, including prostate and breast cancer screening and care for severe mental illness. Democrats said such mandated coverage is saving money because screenings often detect medical problems that would be extremely costly if left untreated.
Peterson, chairman of the committee that hears insurance bills, said that if insurance companies were not faced with so many mandates, the state could start looking at ways to provide coverage for thousands of uninsured Oklahomans.
State Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland said controlling mandates could help the state work with the insurance industry to move forward with providing minimal coverage to everyone.
Peterson said chambers of commerce and small business owners support his bill.
Inman said the people of Oklahoma are "left out of this equation." Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman tried to ask Peterson, during floor debate, whether he had any financial interests in insurance companies. Rep. Gus Blackwell, the presiding officer, stopped Collins because he said he was trying to impugn the character of a fellow lawmaker.
Peterson said later that he has not been in the insurance business for five years but had previously handled property and casualty insurance. House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, came to Peterson's defense during the speaker's weekly news conference. "This rationale that because someone has support from an industry prohibits them from running legislation, I don't understand that," Benge said. He said that if this were the case, lawmakers who are trial lawyers would not be able to vote on lawsuit reform. "That type of discussion detracts us from the real debate of the actual bill," Benge said.
Records filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission show that Peterson has links to a political action committee called "A Positive Solution," which has received contributions from insurance companies. In October, the Peterson-related PAC received $1,000 from the Blue Cross Employees PAC. Also in October, Bobbie Stem, a lobbyist for insurance companies, gave $500 to the PAC. Stem's partner, Bill Case, also gave a $500 contribution. Both donations fell well below the $5,000 legal limit. In December, Peterson received in his own campaign fund a $4,000 contribution from Bradford Phillips, whose family holds several insurance companies in trust. Stem is a lobbyist for two of Phillips' companies. However, Peterson returned the contribution after questions were raised about whether it had figured into legislation that had been heard by Peterson's committee.
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Legislatively mandated insurance coverage:
· Mammography screening
· Hospital coverage for 48 hours of maternity benefits for vaginal delivery and 96 hours for Caesarean delivery
· Annual obstetrical/gynecological examinations
· Breast cancer coverage if policy covers other kinds of cancer
· Prostate cancer screening
· Colorectal cancer coverage
· Coverage for wigs or other scalp prostheses for certain cancer patients of as much as $150
· Bone density testing
· Certain diabetes treatment
· Dental anesthesia coverage for certain minors
· Audiological services and hearing aids for children
· Severe mental illness
· Testing for certain children's physical and emotional disorders
· Child immunization coverage
By MICK HINTON World Capitol Bureau