Saturday, March 8, 2008

Health insurance bill falls short

By ANGEL RIGGS World Capitol Bureau

It would have required insurers to cover any procedure a doctor deemed medically necessary.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Senate Democrats were aggravated Thursday with the defeat of a measure that would have required insurance companies to pay for all procedures doctors deem medically necessary.

"We talk about people who don't have access to health care in Oklahoma, but we have people who have health-care coverage who still cannot get access to care," Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, said.

Opponents contend that the measure would force insurance companies to raise their rates by mandating that they cover everything.

Corn and several other Senate Democrats met with reporters after the bill failed to get the 25 votes needed for passage.

Senate Bill 2114 by Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, could be reconsidered within three legislative days if enough support is gathered.

The bill failed by a 24-19 vote. It takes 25 votes for a measure to pass in the Senate. The Senate is tied with 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans; Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins can break ties.

"The profits are out of this world for insurance companies," Corn said.

He added that it's wrong for "a clerk at an insurance company" to decide whether someone will get the "medically necessary treatment that their physician has chosen -- the guy that went to school, who paid all of the money to become a medical doctor, who has all the knowledge."

But Sen. Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow, argued that if the bill passed, "insurance companies would have to raise their premiums to a point where employers would not be able to afford health insurance for employees."

Brown, co-chairman of the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee, said health care is a difficult problem but that the market, not the Legislature, should dictate what insurance companies cover.

Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, said the bill would "so drastically, negatively impact small business owners and significantly escalate higher insurance costs that it will lead to thousands of more folks in Oklahoma being uninsured."

Several Senate Democrats noted, however, that the measure would help people now paying premiums who think they're covered, only to find out that they're not or have only limited coverage.

Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, said the country's health-care industry is broken and that the law would help Oklahomans get the medical care their doctors say they need.

"Any industry that's set up to make money by charging as much premium as they can, and then denying as much service as they can, is a broken system," he said.

Angel Riggs (405) 528-2465

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