Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

House committee refuses to hear domestic violence bill

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A bill to prohibit health insurance companies from denying policies and care to victims of domestic violence is being killed in a House committee.

Senate Bill 1251 passed the Senate 45-0 but faces a deadline Wednesday to be heard in the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee. Today is the deadline for bills to be added to tomorrow’s agenda.

The committee chair, Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, refuses to hear this common-sense reform.

Dan Sullivan is allowing women to be victimized twice. As usual, he is standing with the selfish interests of the insurance industry.

Did Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee allow this bill out of the Senate because he knew it was certain to be killed in the House, or did the House leadership act independently? What are they so afraid of?

Despite claims to the contrary, insurance companies in Oklahoma have denied policies and coverage to victims of domestic violence.

Currently the insurance commissioner is using her regulatory authority to not allow insurers to ask about one’s status as a victim of domestic violence on policy applications. However, it’s unlikely that this prohibition was in place in the past (consider her predecessors’ records for a moment), and nothing prohibits insurance companies who have issued policies from refusing to cover domestic violence-related injuries.

Also, because this is a regulatory interpretation, it can be overturned by the Legislature or simply changed internally. That’s why we need a law on the books.

Here are some things to consider:

In 2008 there were more than 23,000 reports of domestic violence in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Oklahoma is one of only eight states without a law to prohibit insurance companies from considering one’s status as a victim of domestic violence when deciding whether to issue a policy or pay a claim.

By allowing this practice, the state Legislature is making things even worse in a state that already suffers from far too much domestic violence.

The last thing women who have been abused should worry about is whether their insurance company will pay their claim or whether they’ll be able to get insurance in the future.

Allowing domestic violence to factor into insurance decisions makes abused women less likely to seek assistance and end dangerous relationships.

Insurance companies are shifting the cost of health care onto policyholders and, ultimately, taxpayers when they refuse to cover domestic violence.

Other states, like Arkansas, have embraced this bill. In Oklahoma, we kill even incremental consumer-friendly reforms.

Second legislative scorecard is posted

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I have just added another scorecard from my ongoing series that runs (more or less) weekly in The Edmond Sun newspaper.

Visit… to read the scorecard.

Bills on this scorecard, our second for the 2010 session, are:

   * Senate Bill 1996: CompSource privatization

   * Senate Bill 847: Two-year “cooling-off” period before legislators may become lobbyists

   * Senate Bill 1973: Worker’s comp overhaul

   * Senate Bill 1849: Legislative approval of agency rules

   * Senate Bill 1251: Domestic violence as a pre-existing condition

   * Senate Bill 1392: Drug tests for TANF recipients, elected officials and recipients of state tax credits

   * House Bill 1530: Health education in middle school

   * Senate Joint Resolution 59: “Opt out” of federal health care reform

   * Senate Joint Resolution 58: Asks Congress to exempt Oklahoma from health care reform and return money collected under the bill

Scorecards include local legislators’ votes, an impartial summary of each bill and our opinion of each bill.

OKWatchdog releases session's first legislative scorecard

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As part of our ongoing series in The Edmond Sun, we have published the first of the session’s legislative scorecards.

Visit… to read it for yourself.

Bills tracked were:

HB 2745: Establishes voluntary licensing of dog and cat breeders.

HB 3393: Provides scholarships for special-needs children to any accredited school.

HB 3302: Creates an energy-stabilization fund.

HB 3077: Makes it illegal for women to sell their eggs.

HB 1686: Gives preferential bidding in state contracts to firms that offer health insurance to employees, when bids are otherwise equal.

HB 2316: Makes it illegal to use a caller ID “spoofing” card or service that makes a number appear as a different number.

HB 2541: Requires municipal courts to keep identifying personal information confidential.

HB 2544: Raises the co-pay for Medicaid patients.  

A bill worth considering….

( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

Sometime this week, likely tomorrow, the state House of Representatives will consider House Bill 1530, a bill to require a semester of health education in middle school.

Although you’ve likely heard all this before, our state’s dismal health indicators are what really drive this bill.

Oklahoma is one of the nation’s least-healthy states. We rank dead last in heart disease, mental illness and nutrition. We rank 44th in health insurance coverage, 47th in exercise and 47th in tobacco use.

Some things to keep in mind, according to the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy:

   * The respected UnitedHealth Foundation annual survey ranked Oklahoma 49th in the overall health of its residents in 2009.

   * Since 1990, the prevalence of obesity has risen from 11.6 percent of the population to 30.9 percent. More than one-quarter of the state’s population smokes tobacco.

   * Health-related factors, such as hunger and chronic illness, can lead to poor performance in school. Health-risk behaviors, such as substance abuse and poor diets, are consistently linked to academic failure.

   * Poor health rankings make it difficult for businesses to recruit and retain talent, and for the state to recruit companies here. Healthy employees are more productive and miss less work. They also cost less in health insurance premiums. With 50 cents of every health care dollar being used to treat preventable diseases, there is an obvious need for greater responsibility and better lifestyle choices.

   * Which brings us back to education. In order to make good choices, Oklahomans need to know what their choices are and know their consequences.

   * The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend comprehensive health education in grades K-12.

   * In 2008 the P.E. requirement was expanded to include health and nutrition education, and additional P.E. However, there is no such requirement in the upper grades.

If improving Oklahomans’ health depends on individual choices, they, in turn, depend on knowledge. Yet too many Oklahomans lack knowledge of health, nutrition, tobacco, violence and other matters that influence health.

Oklahoma is one of only two states to have no requirement in public schools for health education. State academic standards provide a comprehensive outline of the components of health education at every grade level, but only about half of the state’s school districts offer any type of physical education, health and nutrition classes in upper grades.

HB 1530 will:

   * Require districts to provide a minimum of one semester of health education in grades 6, 7 or 8, beginning in the 2011-12 school year.

   * Provides for topics to be determined by local districts, including physical activity, nutrition, drug abuse prevention, oral health, environmental health, growth and development, injury prevention, bullying prevention and wellness.

   * Encourages school districts to work with community organizations, including county health departments, local hospitals, county extension offices and others with proven expertise, to provide materials, resources and personnel. Parents may opt their children out of any or all of the health education curriculum.

This bill was the leading measure from the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy’s Fall Forum. Legislators’ concerns should be allayed by the floor substitute. Also, there are floor amendments to the bill from Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Coody. Rep. Kern’s amendment requires schools to notify parents which community-based organizations will assist teaching the curriculum. Rep. Coody’s amendment allows schools who don’t have a teacher certified in health education to delay implementation until the 2013-14 school year.

Organizations that support HB1530 include the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition and the Oklahoma Public Health Association.

CompSource sale: Less competition, higher premiums

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A Senate subcommittee has approved sale of the state-backed workers’ comp insurance provider, CompSource Oklahoma, and a House committee will consider the matter Wednesday.

Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, has a CompSource sale bill conveniently assigned to the Economic Development & Financial Services Committee, which he chairs. Rep. Sullivan is the point man for workers’ comp reform in the House just as he was for tort reform last year.

So here’s the question Sullivan et al. haven’t answered: Is selling CompSource a good idea?

I question the underlying motives of selling CompSource and the effect it will have on small businesses in the state.

CompSource is a worker’s comp insurer of last resort that the state created in 1933. It has been able to keep rates lower than they otherwise would have been (keeping with the purpose of its founding — providing affordable insurance for difficult-to-insure businesses). It is nonprofit and self-sustaining.

Numbers from the state Insurance Department back this up: CompSource has 35 percent of the market with remaining carriers all under 5 percent. This looks like a market in which CompSource has been able to exert downward pressure on premiums, but not so much that no one else will participate.

I’ve never understood how selling a state asset, be it a turnpike, museum or insurer, is going to improve competition. If you want to argue that the private sector is leaner and efficient, fine, although I don’t believe that holds true in every case. But simply selling CompSource will reduce or not change the number of players in the market while removing a carrier of last resort that also happens to offer competitive rates. This amounts to little more than corporate welfare for out-of-state for-profit insurers.

Selling CompSource could add some money to state coffers (as much as $200 million by some estimates) but it will be costly to small businesses in the long run and will be a one-time stimulus. And if CompSource is mutualized instead of sold outright, proceeds will go to policyholders rather than the state.

It’s also worth mentioning that any sale of CompSource is almost guaranteed to result in litigation, whose outcome is by no means assured.

Jason Reese, a Republican candidate for labor commissioner, cautioned against selling the provider.

“Let’s not break our small businesses’ budgets in an attempt to balance our state government budget,” he said. “We must prevent privatizing profits while socializing losses — creating a Fannie Mae for Oklahoma,” he said.

Privatizing profits while socializing losses. Sounds familiar to me.

Bill to prohibit domestic violence as a pre-existing condition is being killed

( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

A bipartisan bill to prohibit the onerous practice of denying insurance coverage because of domestic violence wasn’t heard in the state House of Representatives and a related bill is being strangled in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 1251 was held over in the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee yesterday when the chair, Sen. Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow, an insurance broker and shameless water carrier for the industry’s worst abuses, couldn’t muster enough Republican votes to strike the title (effectively guaranteeing it an unmarked grave in the legislative purgatory known as a conference committee).

The icing on the cake is that Brown last fall told a group of supportive Broken Arrow parishioners at a “town-hall” meeting that he was a defender of his clients against insurance industry abuses.

While Brown waited for Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, to come cast their votes, which they may do as president pro-tempore and floor leader, respectively, Wilson had to attend another committee hearing.

But Coffee and Lamb were busy debating in favor of committee passage of health care reform opt-out bills. So Brown did the only thing he could do and laid the bill over until next week — the deadline for bills to clear committee.

There’s nothing more to be said about the stunning immorality and cold number-crunching of denying insurance to someone because they have suffered from domestic abuse. Whether their injuries will be covered under their insurance or keep them from getting insurance in the future should be the last thing on their minds.

Once again, the majority party’s leadership will permit not even the slightest restriction on the insurance industry’s wild-west behavior.

If we can draw enough attention and shame to this practice, we may gain some momentum. Contact me if you’d like to help.

Op-ed on interstate insurance sales in the Oklahoman from OKWatchdog

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This appeared in today’s edition of the Oklahoman.

A race to the bottom

Point of view: Interstate insurance sales


Published: February 8, 2010

One of the few parts of health care reform everyone seems to agree on is that selling insurance across state lines should be allowed. “Competition” is the buzz word.

When asked on “Meet the Press” about the GOP’s health care reform agenda, the party’s Senate leader listed interstate insurance sales near the top.

In Oklahoma, gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Oklahoma City, has endorsed interstate insurance sales. Two bills up for consideration in the Legislature this year would allow insurers to sell across state lines. Both were filed by Democrats. It appears as though Fallin’s party doesn’t share her enthusiasm at the Capitol.

Read the rest here.