By Ron Jenkins/Associated Press Writer
Published: February 26, 2009
Oklahoma Senate Democrats are charging that Republicans are taking the side of insurance companies over the needs of their constituents.
Democratic leaders held a news conference Thursday to decry decisions by GOP leaders not to hear their insurance-related bills, including a measure to require insurance companies to cover autism in their health care policies.
Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, said Republicans are forsaking their pro-family ideals by killing insurance bills that help families dealing with critical health care needs.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee called the Democratic comments "over the top" and not helpful to their cause.
Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said he is still hopeful a compromise can be worked out that will improve the plight of families with autistic children.
He criticized Gumm for saying Republicans had "put a gun to children's heads" by not passing Gumm's autism mandate bill. Such comments, Coffee said, are counterproductive.
Gumm said earlier he was "absolutely aghast" that autism coverage had become a partisan issue in Oklahoma, when it had been passed in other states such as Louisiana with backing from Republicans.
Democrats said Republicans have shown a pattern in recent years of summarily rejecting legislation opposed by the insurance industry.
In defeating such bills, GOP lawmakers have generally said mandates sought by Democrats would drive up the cost of insurance too much.
"It's not our obligation in the Senate to make sure the insurance companies make money," said Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah.
Coffee said it was not like Republicans are not saying the insurance companies do not have faults and "all wear white hats."
He said Democrats are not giving enough credit to a bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Steele, R-Shawnee, to increase the number of providers of autism services in the state.
He said Steele's bill will be the vehicle for any compromise that can be worked out on autism.