Sunday, September 14, 2008

Myths of insurance mandates

By State Sen. Jay Paul Gumm

The Oklahoman, Saturday, Sept 13, 2008

President Kennedy said, "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

As we fought for health insurance coverage of children with autism, we fought a "persistent, persuasive and unrealistic” myth. The constant refrain from those who oppose helping these families is their opinion insurance mandates like "Nick's Law” raise premiums and increase the number of people who are uninsured.

The insurance situation in other states unravels the arguments on which the opponents of "Nick's Law” depend. First, compare the number of legislative mandates among several states. Then, in those states with more legislative mandates, one should look at the percentage of uninsured. Finally, one should examine premium costs in those states compared with Oklahoma.

We have 36 health insurance mandates in Oklahoma; 20 states have fewer and 29 states have more. For their myth to be accurate, every state with more health insurance mandates should have higher premium costs and more uninsured. Here is where their myth begins to unravel.

Four states that have more mandates have lower average premiums: Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington. Also, the percentage of uninsured is smaller than Oklahoma in each of those states.

Oklahoma has almost 19 percent of our residents without health insurance. In Missouri, the rate of uninsured is 12.3 percent; in Washington, 12.5 percent; in Virginia, 13.2 percent of its residents are uninsured; and, in Tennessee, the number is 13.4 percent.

The number of uninsured in individual states has more to do with per capita personal income and the cost of living than legislative requirements that health insurance cover specific illnesses. Even that statement has exceptions.

In California, one of the most expensive states in which to live, health insurance is cheaper than in Oklahoma. On top of that, California has 14 more legislative health insurance mandates than Oklahoma does.

This myth has only one purpose: Allow some to turn their backs on autistic children "without the discomfort of thought.” During the 2008 session of the Legislature, the myth allowed a small number of Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to deny a hearing on "Nick's Law” without the discomfort of a real debate.

The reason is twofold. First, they know their argument will never hold up under real scrutiny, so they put up this smokescreen to provide political cover. Second, they know a majority of House members — Republicans and Democrats alike — will vote to pass "Nick's Law” if given a chance, just like what happened in the evenly divided Oklahoma Senate.

The real tragedy of House leaders' stall tactics is the continued unimaginable financial strain on families with autistic children. "Nick's Law” will help, if House leaders will only give the measure a hearing. This is a chance for them to do more than talk about "family values.” It is a chance for them to truly value families.

Gumm, D-Durant, represents District 6 in the Oklahoma Senate.

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