Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

HOUSE BILL 1021 WILL DO NOTHING TO MAKE PEOPLE GET CAR INSURANCE

( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

A bill to keep uninsured drivers from collecting noneconomic damages will do nothing to entice Oklahomans to carry car insurance and deserves to be vetoed.

This is yet another example of some legislators protecting insurance companies on the backs of poor people.

This bill won’t lead to a single Oklahoman buying car insurance who wouldn’t otherwise have bought it.

Although it may be tempting to link carrying car insurance to restricting lawsuits, the two aren’t related. The insured and uninsured alike are injured in accidents through no fault of their own, and suffering from bad car wrecks doesn’t affect only those with policies.

HB 1021 also will cost Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance plans that receive money back from the car insurance companies of negligent drivers.  

If legislators want to increase car insurance rates, they should stiffen penalties and better enforce existing laws.

Uninsured drivers don’t have a clue what noneconomic damages are, and no amount of doubletalk is going to change that. Arguing that restricting their access to the courts is going to make them get insurance is an incredible leap of logic. We call on the governor to exercise the same even-handedness he has exercised throughout the session and veto this mean-spirited bill.

Jeff Raymond

www.okwatchdog.org

WHO REMOVED WIDELY SUPPORTED CONSUMER PROTECTION?

( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

A handful of state legislators have gone against a majority of senators, removing the widely supported Corn Amendment without public input or answering for their actions.

The amendment would have prohibited insurance companies from financially rewarding employees who deny claims.

“It’s a shame that this didn’t pass. My colleagues missed an opportunity to protect Oklahomans from the obviously immoral practice of paying to deny care for the sick and dying. Forty-four senators voted to ban this practice, but it was stripped under cover of darkness. The Legislature needs to better scrutinize these types of practices,” said Sen. Kenneth Corn, author of the amendment. “Those who did this need to come forward and explain themselves.”

Corn amended House Bill 1055, which has reached the governor’s desk and deals with insurance company payments to doctors. The amendment received bipartisan support.

The amendment was headed to conference committee but was removed at the last minute. It’s unclear who’s responsible. The bill was on its way to defeat, but prominent Republican legislators stepped in to ensure its passage.

“Without public input, a handful of legislators have refused to stand up to one of the insurance industry’s most repugnant practices. What are they afraid of? Why is it necessary for insurance companies to reward employees for letting paying policyholders die?” said Dr. Rene McNall-Knapp, a pediatric neuro-oncologist and advocate for greater health insurance industry transparency, accountability and responsibility.

Jeff Raymond

www.okwatchdog.org

www.okhealthcarereform.com

Health insurance reform rally update

( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

OKWatchdog and several other groups (www.okhealthcarereform.com) have a health insurance reform rally planned at the Capitol on April 21 at 12:30 p.m. We’ll either be on the South Plaza or inside on the stairs near the Lieutenant Governor’s office, depending on the weather.

We announced the rally today at a press conference at the Capitol. You should see it on TV tonight or read about it tomorrow.

Sen. Kenneth Corn and Rep. Eric Proctor talked about a health insurance reform legislative agenda and promoted the rally. I talked about lack of health insurance industry accountability, as did the other speakers.

The rally will go for no longer than an hour (likely less) and will consist of nonprofits, patients, health care providers, small business owners and others talking about health insurance industry practices and telling their stories.

Our message is that we need to protect Oklahomans from abuses and take back the Legislature from the insurance lobby.

Obviously we need as many people to attend as possible. If you can stop by for a few minutes, it will make a huge difference in terms of public perception and media coverage.

I’ll post a speaker list as soon as it’s finalized.

Please consider attending. It’s worthwhile and will get people’s attention.

Our priorities are to:

  • Lessen the health insurance lobby’s influence at the Capitol and make it more transparent

  • Stop insurance companies from cherry picking only young, healthy policyholders

  • Ban discrimination based on pre-existing conditions

  • Stop insurance companies from telling doctors how to practice medicine

  • Stop insurance companies from canceling coverage when someone gets sick

  • Stop insurance companies from setting inadequate lifetime caps on coverage

    Jeff Raymond

    Executive Director

    OKWatchdog

  • OKWatchdog op-ed on damage caps from The Oklahoman

    This ran in The Oklahoman April 4. To see it there, go to http://www.newsok.com/corporat…

    Imagine being told your life is worth less than someone else’s. If this sounds incredibly unfair and discriminatory, it is. Welcome to “reform” of our state’s legal system, courtesy of billion-dollar insurance companies and huge corporations whose only concern is to carve out a special status so they can protect their profits.

    Proposals to cap noneconomic damages in lawsuits are making their way through the Legislature. Caps blatantly discriminate against the elderly, the poor, minorities, children and stay-at-home mothers. Caps deny justice to the most severely injured – those who most need it and most deserve it.

    To understand why, one must understand how lawsuits work.

    When someone is injured, he or she may be awarded noneconomic damages. These are given for loss and suffering apart from lost income and medical bills. Examples include paralysis, blindness and limb loss.

    Supporters of caps say pain and suffering is “fuzzy” and is unrelated to actual expenses. What’s fuzzy is trying to place an arbitrary price on a person’s unique circumstances and pretending those who suffer from life-changing injuries don’t deserve something because their futures have been wrecked.

    By capping noneconomic damages, Republican legislative leaders are saying your life is only worth the medical care you need because of someone else’s negligence, the income you lost because someone else caused you to be unable to work, and no more than $300,000 for a lifetime of suffering and lost opportunities.

    For those who haven’t joined the work force and established a record of earnings, or have left the work force because of retirement or to raise a family, $300,000 will be all they can expect for the continuing anguish from their injuries.

    By limiting noneconomic damages, GOP legislative leaders are saying the lives of the poor, the elderly and children are worth less than that of a corporate CEO who can document a large income.

    Instead of telling average Oklahomans that they’re less important than fat cats, true lawsuit reform would involve greater regulation of the insurance industry and stronger oversight of the medical profession. True reform would speed up the legal system and reduce its costs. It would protect everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.

    Oklahomans deserve better than corporate immunity, especially those who haven’t even entered the work force or have spent their lives toiling and expect a peaceful retirement.

    Raymond is executive director of OKWatchdog.

    HB 1603 ENRICHES INSURANCE COMPANIES, DOES NOTHING FOR THE ECONOMY

    ( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

    Oklahomans are a step closer to giving politicians and insurance companies control of their legal system while gaining nothing in return.

    Should HB 1603 become law, economic growth will be unchanged. Doctors’ medical malpractice premiums will not decrease. Health care will not be more affordable or more accessible.

    The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today on a 6-2 vote.

    States with sweeping, one-sided changes like those in HB 1603 have the same economic growth rate as those without the so-called “reforms” – 3.5 percent.

    HB 1603 clearly will increase profits for one group – insurance companies.

    If profits in states without noneconomic damage caps were the same as those in states with caps, insurance companies would have made an additional $9.2 billion in 2005.

    Oklahomans need to begin asking who is driving this agenda. As their profitability clearly shows, it’s some of America’s most greedy corporations that are seeking to irrevocably take away our rights.

    HB 1603 won’t make the slightest difference in economic growth or affordable health care, but it will make some extremely rich people even richer.

    In calling for passage of HB 1603, the medical lobby claims that doctors are leaving the state.

    However, Oklahoma’s doctor population grew by a respectable 24 percent from 1997 to 2007.

    Doctors who leave the state typically do so because of a relative lack of residency training programs and a desire to live elsewhere; lawsuits have no bearing on these decisions.

    Oklahoma is graduating and training as many doctors as its medical schools and hospitals can accommodate. Claims otherwise are nothing but a smokescreen. It’s truly sad to see doctors become pawns of insurance companies that have made their lives and those of their patients miserable.

    Medical malpractice premiums for internists, general surgeons and obstetrician-gynecologists are 2 percent higher in states with caps than in states without caps.

    Only insurance reform will truly save doctors money.

    www.okwatchdog.org

    SUPREME COURT OPPOSES REPUBLICAN LEGISLATION

    ( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

    From the Oklahoma House of Representatives press office:

    On the same day that the Republican-led House of Representatives passed legislation increasing federal control over the local judiciary, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling in total opposition.

    Last Wednesday the House passed HB1603, a bill that – among other things – makes it virtually impossible to hold a drug or product manufacturer liable for the damage caused by a dangerous drug or product if a federal agency, such as the FDA, has approved it.

    At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a strikingly similar rule – one which stated that Federal agency approval pre-empts state juries from holding drug manufacturers accountable.

    “This is further evidence that the Republican majority in Oklahoma is moving our state in the wrong direction,” said Rep. Ryan Kiesel, D-Seminole.  “While the Supreme Court is empowering state juries and protecting states’ rights, the Republican legislature is going out of its way to protect big pharmaceutical companies.”

    Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, shared concerns that this provision of the bill would be overturned if signed into law.

    “I voted against the bill in part because it would remove all accountability from makers of products such as Vioxx, which received FDA approval, but was later proven unsafe,” he said.  “The Supreme Court ruled that the ability for individuals to seek redress in state courts is not detrimental, but it is a useful complement to federal regulators.

    “The Supreme Court has restored an important piece in our system of checks and balances, even while state House leadership agreed to throw it out the window,” he added.

    Read this article in the Houston Chronicle for more information on the case, Wyeth v. Levine.

    Visit http://www.okwatchdog.org/inde… for more civil justice resources.

    The unlikely bedfellows who filed briefs in support of the plaintiff, Vermont guitarist Diana Levine, who lost her arm and her livelihood because of an improperly administered drug, showed the case’s reach and significance. They include former editors of the New England Journal of Medicine; the National Conference on State Legislatures; consumer groups; two former FDA commissioners; the Texas Medical Association; a number of states, including Oklahoma; and the AARP.

    Who filed briefs supporting Wyeth? Drugmakers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and defense attorneys, of course.

    Read this chilling brief from former New England Journal of Medicine editors to understand how little FDA approval of drugs and medical devices really means.

    Visit http://www.okwatchdog.org/user… to read the brief.

    Jeff Raymond

    www.okwatchdog.org

    CERTIFICATES OF MERIT PENALIZE THE INJURED

    ( – promoted by OKWatchdog)

    The state House has approved yet another piece of legislation to place control of the state’s courts in the hands of politicians and insurance companies.

    House Bill 1570 requires plaintiffs in civil lawsuits to seek expensive affidavits that attest to the case’s merit. These affidavits cost thousands of dollars and can make it impossible for injured Oklahomans to receive their day in court.

    The bill’s author, Rep. Colby Schwartz, claims “frivolous lawsuits” clog the state’s legal system. Yet the facts show he’s dead wrong.

    From 2003-07 medical negligence filings decreased by 29.7 percent in the state’s 13 most populous counties. Moreover, 39 counties – 51 percent of the state’s total – had fewer than give medical malpractice lawsuits from 2004-07.

    Schwartz also claims that lawsuits are increasing health care costs. Yet if medical malpractice payments to injured Oklahomans were eliminated entirely, health care costs would decrease by well less than 1 percent.

    Only in the twisted logic of some legislative leaders is kicking sand in the face of injured Oklahomans making the system fairer.