Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oklahoman OP/Ed - Cost benefit Analysis needed

Cost-benefit analysis needed to examine issue
OUR VIEWS: Insurance mandates

Published: December 10, 2008

With two months to go before the start of the next legislative session, one of the loudest issues that will come before lawmakers is already making noise.

It’s the issue of forcing health insurance policies to cover autism treatments. Taking a larger view, it’s the issue of adding mandates to policies that make them more expensive and thus harder to afford by those already struggling to get coverage.

Battle lines on this issue were drawn in the 2008 session, in a tussle between the forces of emotion and the forces of reason. Back then we termed it a classic case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

Parents of children with autism have a champion in state Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, who approaches the issue with almost evangelistic fervor. If he’s the good guy in this deal (and we don’t necessarily believe he is), then the men in black hats are Republican House members who believe the mandate train must be held up if not derailed.

Gumm says momentum is building for "Nick’s Law,” the mandate bill named for an Edmond boy who is autistic. Last year, Gumm couldn’t get a hearing for the bill in the Republican-controlled House, despite intense lobbying from the parent group and Gumm’s emotion-choked arguments.

A possible compromise — passing this mandate in exchange for a bill restricting future mandates — went nowhere. This reasonable approach may face just as much opposition as before. Gumm now has the burden of getting his bill through a Senate that will be controlled by Republicans for the first time in history.

The autism mandate would be the 37th the state forces on policyholders. Estimates on what the autism mandate would cost vary wildly — so much so that it’s difficult to believe either side’s numbers.

Nevertheless, mandates do add to the cost of insurance, and that reduces the number of people who can afford insurance in a state with a chronic uninsured problem.

Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, is a physician who initially supported Nick’s Law. He now opposes it on the basis of not wishing to worsen the uninsured problem.

We believe the first thing the Legislature should do vis-a-vis mandates is to pass a law requiring a cost-benefit analysis for all future mandates. That analysis should not be funded by the state. Absent a consensus on the cost of any particular mandate, it’s folly to keep adding dollars to policy premiums.

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