By John A. Small
Johnston County Capital-Democrat
"IF I WERE HIM I'D REALLY BE TICKED"
You know, you really can’t blame our state Senator, Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant), for taking umbrage over last week’s announcement by some of his Republican colleagues concerning their plans to conduct interim studies focusing on the issue of autism in Oklahoma.
Here’s a man who, for the better part of the most recent legislative session, carried that particular banner higher than anyone at the State Capitol, only to have the rug yanked out from under his feet by House Republicans who apparently couldn’t find it in their hearts to give the issue the fair hearing it deserved. And only now do some of those same House Republicans step up to the plate, albeit in a manner clearly designed to make themselves look like the good guys.
For the one or two of you who may not have heard about any of this, Gumm was the principal author of Senate Bill 1537 – better known as “Nick’s Law,” so named in honor of 10-year-old Nick Rohde, an autistic child from Edmond. This proposed legislation would have required health insurance to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism.
The bio-neurological disorder occurs in one in 150 births and affects up to 1.5 million Americans. The cost of life-long care can be reduced by two-thirds with early diagnosis and intervention; in a decade the annual national care costs will reportedly be somewhere around the $200 billion mark.
As I understand it, 18 other states in this country have already passed legislation similar to Nick’s Law. And it’s obvious from the number of articles and television reports I’ve seen in the national media over the past year or two that the issue has grown into one of major concern nationwide.
Nick’s Law passed the Oklahoma Senate on a bipartisan vote on March 10. But in spite of the hard work of Senator Gumm, the pleas from parents of autistic children and a fair amount of editorial support from newspapers across the state, the measure was killed by House Republican leadership; efforts to resurrect the proposal as an amendment to another bill later in the session fared no better.
Opponents repeatedly cited fears that such a mandate would increase insurance costs and drive up the number of uninsured Oklahomans. The release of a 10-page study by a nationally recognized expert demonstrated that such fears were unfounded, but this did not dissuade House Republicans in their efforts to kill the measure.
A subsequent press release issued by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) – which, from what I’ve seen, tends to be against anything that would benefit the majority of Oklahomans – seemingly betrayed the true intentions of the most vocal opponent to Gumm’s measure. That article, essentially a “puff piece” profile of Rep. Ron Peterson (R-Broken Arrow), praised Peterson’s opposition to the bill as a defense of free enterprise; to me that seems a little like saying that the skyrocketing price of gas is a good thing because it stimulates the personal economies of the fatcat oil company executives.
Anyway, the 2008 session ended without Nick’s law getting the hearing it deserved in the House. To his credit, Gumm has vowed to continue the fight; the news earlier this month that Peterson isn’t seeking re-election will hopefully prove beneficial in that regard.
That said, last week’s news of the Republican-sponsored interim studies seems little more than a slap in the face to those families who stand to benefit – who deserve to benefit – from the legislation Gumm proposed.
It’s unlikely that these studies are going to provide any new information that hasn’t already been covered during Gumm’s effort to pass Nick’s Law. And the GOP’s sudden interest in the issue at this point is little more than a poorly disguised attempt at political posturing, thereby adding insult to the injury already suffered by those families.
The House Republican leadership ought to be ashamed of itself.
(Copyright © 2008, by John A. Small)