Here’s an item that didn’t get much attention in the local media last week: As part of the Affordable Care Act, Oklahoma will receive $1 million from the federal government to monitor health insurance premium increases to determine if they are excessive.
If insurance companies are seeking “unreasonable rates” here, then the state could use the money to take action against them, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Oklahoma was one of 45 states and the District of Columbia to receive the money.
This may not be the most interesting or entertaining news, and some progressives will argue it’s not enough, but it shows one small example how President Barack Obama’s recently passed health care reform initiative-attacked viciously and mindlessly here by the right-wing-sides with ordinary people who have faced huge premium increases in recent years. It’s a beginning to more reform and oversight.
According to a HHS press release:
For too long, insurance companies in many States have increased health insurance premiums with little oversight, transparency, or public accountability. Health insurance premiums have doubled on average during the last 10 years, much faster than wages and inflation, putting health coverage out of reach for millions of Americans and business owners.
Here in Oklahoma, a state with some of the poorest medical outcomes in the nation, the right-wing, anti-Obama herd in the legislature last session voted to bring an opt-out measure to voters in November, which would allow the residents to ignore the new federal health care guidelines. The constitutionality of the measure, if passed, will obviously be challenged. Can a state just ignore federal laws? No. Ironically, Oklahoma is a donor state in terms of taxes, which means it receives a lot more money back from the federal government that it pays in. Do state leaders really want to sever this cushy relationship with the federal government though ideological political stunts?
But the larger story here is the somewhat quiet progress of the health care initiative, which has been taking place in stages. Children can no longer be denied insurance for preexisting conditions. HHS has also begun an insurance program for all people denied insurance because of preexisting conditions. This progress has been lost in election year partisan posturing and rhetoric.
Here’s the specific information about Oklahoma premium monitoring, according to the HHS:
[Oklahoma] conducts limited rate review activities. HMOs and small group filings are required, however individual and large group products are not required to file. Oklahoma has the authority to require all rates to be filed. The State will use funds to expand activities to align with the existing authority for rate review in the State, improve processes, systems and pursue additional authority if determined necessary.
[Oklahoma] currently provides consumers access to rate filings upon request via mail or by allowing viewing at the department’s office. The State intends to create a consumer website to post the information on rate review. In addition, they plan to create consumer education materials including a report on the health insurance market in the State for consumers. They are also considering a consumer Ombudsman program.
Here are two things to note in the above information: (1) Undoubtedly, Oklahoma “conducts limited rate review activities” because of budget constraints. But one has to speculate that another reason or at least pressure for limited review could be that the powerful corporate political lobby here supports insurance companies interests over consumers. (2) The consumer website is an excellent idea that means more convenient, public access to government information.
The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it will improve health care and medical outcomes in Oklahoma. Too bad that simple message sometimes gets lost in all the political bickering.