In the Saturday, April 5, 2008 edition of The Daily Oklahoman, a brief editorial appeared criticizing Senator Jay Paul Gumm for his continued efforts to require autism diagnosis and treatment be covered by health insurance policies in Oklahoma. The editorial has drawn significant response in the "Comments" section of the newspaper's website at www.newsok.com (the direct link to the editorial is http://newsok.com/article/3225682/1207359531). The editorial and comments follow:
The stuff of mandates
There's more than one way to skin a cat, we were told before such a saying became uncomfortable in the age of animal rights sensitivity, and there's more than one way to get an autism coverage insurance mandate into state law. Actually, three ways — so far. State Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, is passionate about the autism mandate. When Gumm's bill requiring the mandate didn't make it out of a Senate committee, the bill's language was transferred to no fewer than three bills. One dealt with an insurance premium tax credit and another with a firefighter pension and retirement system. The third actually dealt directly with insurance coverage. As of Friday, it appeared none of the three was going anywhere. We've long been critics of coverage mandates, but if this is a good thing, let's do it in a bill about the mandate rather than stuffing it inside the skin of other bills.
· I read with interest your editorial, 'The stuff of mandates,' in the Saturday Oklahoman. I am one subscriber who strongly differs with your views. You implied that Senator Gumm's actions were inappropriate. Attaching amendments to other bills is not unprecedented, and an amendment can't be attached to a bill without a majority vote in the senate. You state that Senator Gumm "is passionate about the autism mandate." GOD BLESS HIM!! He has listened to the hundreds, if not thousands, of Oklahoma families who desperately need the help this bill would provide and who just want to be heard. Senator Ron Peterson has thus far maneuvered and successfully blocked every attempt to try to give this bill a fair hearing. Is it too much to ask that it just be heard? Senator Gumm, while following the rules, is just simply using every method at his disposal to try to get a fair hearing for this bill. As a Republican I can understand your philosophy on mandates. However, I think it is wrong to assume that they are all without merit. Sometimes they are absolutely necessary. It is appalling to me that the most diagnosed illness in children today (one in every 150) is not covered by insurance in Oklahoma. I am the grandmother of a child with autism, so, of course I share Senator Gumm's passion for wanting to help these children. (I recently sent a letter to "Your Views" regarding this subject.) I doubt this letter will change any minds or hearts, but perhaps if you editorial writers could step into the shoes of a parent coping with an autistic child for even one day, you might be convinced to help rather than criticize the way we are trying to "skin this cat!!!" Donna Greve
Donna, Oklahoma City - Apr 5, 2008 9:44 PM
· Robyne stated "Oklahoma rates higher than the national average of people covered by Medicaid. It appears our legislators prefer the “government” pick up the tab for our healthcare. By defending the anti-insurance mandate mantra, our legislature is driving Oklahoma to state run health care." This is so true. Many of the parents of children with autism are paying for private insurance, but receive no coverage for our children. The cost of intervening and treating these children now is miniscule compared to the cost of caring for them as adults ($3.2 million over their lifetime). Why would you be against something that would help these children? It can't be cost. The Insurance Industry’s own policy group CAHI.org reports that autism insurance coverage will cost less than 1%. It must be because you don't understand. You don't understand the heartache of these parents who see their children locked in a world of their own. Parents who once saw their child playing, talking and laughing, then saw that child disappear before their eyes. Parents who are helpless because they have exhausted their finances and still have so far to go. Parents who have seen and heard of other children who have recovered, or at least gotten better. Yes, it must be because you don't understand. Because to understand and still oppose this legislation, which would help so many children and families, would just be cruel. If you don't support it because you don't believe, at least support it for self-preservation. Because with each passing day, more children are being identified and added to our state medicaid rolls. Your tax dollars at work!
vicki, Guthrie - Apr 5, 2008 7:53 PM
· In your editorial 'the stuff of mandates', you indicate that 'we have long been critics of mandates', and since this paper refuses to print letters to the editor on this topic, allow me to provide your readers with some information. Oklahoma has not passed an insurance mandate since 1999 yet our premiums continue to rise while reducing coverage. The insurance industry is lobbying to convince our legislators that mandates will increase the cost of insurance, resulting in more people becoming uninsured. In actuality, when Nick’s Law is passed, Oklahoma will see droves of families becoming insured so that their children with autism will finally be able to receive the necessary treatments to become independent adults. Without treatment, these children will be forced through the public school system, unable to read, write, or communicate their most basic needs. A 2006 Harvard study concluded the lifetime cost to care for a child left untreated at $3.2 million. A child having had no treatments, once they turn 18, will be added to the state welfare roles at an estimated cost to each Oklahoma taxpayer of $700-$800/year. The Council for Affordable Health Insurance (CAHI) lists Oklahoma as one of the least mandated states in the nation. At the same time we lead nearly all states in the number of uninsured. So what’s really driving insurance costs in Oklahoma? It can’t be mandates. Maybe it is the personal wellness practices or the excess use of alcohol, tobacco, and rise in obesity rates. Oklahoma rates higher than the national average of people covered by Medicaid. It appears our legislators prefer the “government” pick up the tab for our healthcare. By defending the anti-insurance mandate mantra, our legislature is driving Oklahoma to state run health care. Since 80% of these children are under the age of 15, per the NAA, without effective treatment, the first big wave of these children will be applying for state and federal aid in less than 4 years. This will coincide with the first big wave of retiring baby boomers. As one state senator said, it is the perfect storm. Autism, the quiet epidemic, will be the loudest sonic boom ever heard! Robyne Rohde
Robyne, Edmond - Apr 5, 2008 2:24 PM
· · Where are your questions regarding the committee chair's efforts to kill a bill that would help thousands of Oklahoma's most vulnerable children while introducing a bill protecting insurance companies from mandates? (HB 3111) Why are you not questioning Rep Peterson's position against all insurance mandates? What does Rep Peterson suggest we do to insure these children appropriate therapies and treatments while already having insurance in place? Yes, Nick's Law was attached to three bills. All which took the majority vote of the full senate and is within the rules to do so. I want to thank Sen. Gumm for standing up for these children. Also Rep. Brown, Collins, and Shelton for taking on this cause. Wayne and Robyne Rohde for leading us on this issue. Shame on Rep Peterson for not even allowing this bill to be heard. Shame on the other committee members who sat silent while he did so. Shame on you for remaining quiet on this issue. This article disrespects all who are fighting with everything they have for this bill. Where are the articles about the struggles of Oklahoma families living with Autism? About the children who deserve this coverage? Instead you question our methods and brush over Rep Peterson's total refusal to allow this bill a fair and appropriate hearing. I would ask that you look into this issue in more depth so all sides are heard. Laurie Edmond Oklahoma
Laurie, Edmond - Apr 5, 2008 1:14 PM
· There are thousands of Oklahoma families counting on Senator Gumm to represent us in our endeavor to secure insurance coverage for our children. Our attempts to be heard in committee have resulted in mere pats on the back and comments of, "Sorry, this is just the way policy-making works..most bills just never get heard". As noted by the Rohde's submission, tactics to pass legislation are employed by ALL of the legislators....thank goodness we have Senator Gumm's expertise on our side. He is helping us be noted and heard- something you might consider doing yourself. Anne Marie Liles
Anne Marie, Oklahoma City - Apr 5, 2008 12:55 PM
· Autism and related disorders represent fastest growing health threat to children in the U.S. Senator Gumm, the Rohdes, and ideed all the parents of children affected by autism are to be commended for their efforts in helping make proven therapies and treatments more easily accessible to those affected by autism. Your comments make it seem that these efforts were less than fully legitimate or at least somewhat underhanded. Rather, the methods used to further this legislation was completely appropriate within the rules governing our legislative process. Instead of criticizing, why not advocate for the legislature to do what is right and good for the children and families of Oklahoma!
Paul, Edmond - Apr 5, 2008 11:59 AM
· I want to correct your statement on "stuff of mandates". First, the 3 bills that Nick's Law was amended to all passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. According to Senate rules, all bills must deal with Insurance to allow an amendment of another insurance matter. You did not mention that fact. Nor will you publish letters to the editor supporting Nick's Law or other health care mandates. Also, please note and keep for your future reference, due to the evenly split Senate, amending legislation is a very common and acceptable practice. Yet you feel it to be a cheap end around on this case. We are working within the rules of the legislature to advance medically necessary legislation for thousands of children who can not speak for themselves and for the thousands of parents and families of Oklahoma that you will not their viewpoint to be heard!
Wayne Rohde, Edmond - Apr 5, 2008 8:45 AM