Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

A response to Senator Lankford about health care in Oklahoma

This is a (long) letter I wrote to Senator Lankford in response to his reply to one of my letters to him about health care.

July 26, 2017

Senator Lankford,

I received your email response to my letter and, with all due respect, it is filled with half-truths, hyperbole, and outright lies. Allow me to enlighten you.

You said, “While I celebrate with those families who now have health care coverage, I am very concerned about the growing number of Americans who have been priced out of the market…:”

While there are a number of Americans who have been “priced out of the market,” the blame for that fiasco lies firmly on the shoulders of Republicans, who have passed many laws intended to hobble the ACA and on the Republican governor of Oklahoma, who spitefully refused to expand Medicaid in our state, proving that states—at least our state—are entirely incapable of managing the implementation of healthcare at the state level. We can’t even keep our schools open five days a week!

You write, “It is vital that we work toward a better healthcare alternative that is more affordable, market-driven…”

When was the last time you had a heart-attack and thought, “I’m going to call around and find the cheapest hospital before I get in the ambulance?” Or, “I’m going to have plastic surgery to repair the damage from this severe facial burn—I’m going to call around and find the cheapest plastic surgeon.” Or, “I have cancer, I’m going to call around and find the cheapest oncologist to treat me.” Or, “My child was born with a heart defect, I need to find the cheapest heart surgeon to repair it.” The answer in all cases: NEVER. Because the market does not drive healthcare decisions. Cost ends up being a factor only in whether or not a person gets any care at all—not in the cost of that care. In addition, even if you were to somehow contort some examples in which this might be true, it would not apply to most Oklahomans who live in rural areas (like myself) and whose healthcare options are already severely limited.

You said, “In Oklahoma, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) is currently the only provider of Obamacare plans.”

See paragraph three and reference Mary Fallin. You really need to get a different argument—this FAKE one is getting old.

You said, “Over the last few months, several Oklahomans received notice that network negotiations have been difficult between their hospital and BCBS. If an agreement is not reached, that hospital will be considered out of the BCBS network and patients will either see another significant increase in out-of-pocket payments or be forced to choose another physician.”

Hospital emergency rooms cannot legally turn people away. In my rural area, people without insurance rely on E.R. care for their primary healthcare for this reason. That means that without ANY insurance, hospitals are forced to provide care for more and more people who cannot pay their bills at all. In rural areas, specifically, this is an insurmountable burden—crippling them beyond their financial constraints. That means that people living in rural areas—who already have to drive a long distance to a hospital—may now lose their closest hospital and have to drive two or more hours to the nearest hospital! That means almost certain death in the case of heart attack and increased risk of death for accident victims. “…forced to choose another physician” hardly seems like a hardship when viewed through this lens.

We require EVERYONE to carry car insurance so that if they hit another vehicle, and they are to blame, they can be responsible and pay for it. In the same way, EVERYONE should have health insurance so that those who DO have insurance aren’t financially supporting everyone else who does not.

You said, “It is imperative that policy makers come together in Washington to fix our healthcare delivery system.”

This is the one true statement in your otherwise-bullshit letter.

You said, “As you may know, on July 25, 2017, Senate Republicans agreed on the motion to proceed to debate on how to repeal and replace Obamacare. The key goals of the healthcare debate in the Senate are to protect people in the safety net who need access to health care and to lower costs for individuals who pay for their health insurance.”

NONE of the options on the table that Republicans have proposed do ANY of these things—much less ALL of those things.

You wrote, “There is also a significant focus on returning insurance regulations to each state, where innovation and regional needs can be met with greater attention. Healthcare priorities are different in Alaska, Oklahoma, and New York. A one-size-fits-all approach does not honor those differences and prevents each state from best serving its citizens.”

Have you heard of “economies of scale”? You can Google it. And, really—how different are an Oklahoman’s healthcare needs from those in Alaska and New York? Repeating talking points ad nauseam doesn’t make them true. I can’t think of a single way they are different. The human body works the same all over the world. We are the same species. If there ARE ways they are different (for example, if Oklahomans are more obese or have more heart disease or diabetes than New Yorkers), then it is because Oklahomans have received substandard healthcare until now….likely because Mary Fallin refused the Medicaid expansion.

You said, “It is important to know that none of the Senate proposals affect Medicare, VA benefits, or employer-based care.”

EVERY one of these statements is an outright LIE or a not-so-clever misdirection. Millions of people who are on MediCAID will be kicked off and left with NO insurance. Those on MediCARE, but who have supplemental plans (a large percentage of them) will also be affected. Employer-based care will ABSOLUTELY be affected…your bills will ELIMINATE the employer mandate for smaller companies, which will ELIMINATE coverage offered by some employers, leaving many people without any coverage. It also allows lifetime CAPS for everyone, which affects both employer-based care as well as privately accessed care. VA benefits are also affected IF they also get health insurance on the private market.

You said, “The focus of the debate is how to stabilize the individual insurance market and Medicaid.”

Your focus SHOULD be on how to make sure that ALL Americans have basic healthcare as a fundamental human right, as the World Health Organization has declared it is and as hundreds of countries around the world guarantee to their citizens. HEALTHCARE—that should be your focus. Human beings. Your constituents. Men, women, children.

You wrote, “The individual mandate tax hits the middle class and those in poverty the hardest.”

You know what else hits the middle class and those in poverty the hardest? A personal healthcare crisis. Cancer. Diabetes. Heart disease. Birth injury or congenital anomaly. An accident. And bankruptcy that comes after that due to an inability to pay the resulting bills.

You wrote, “A few years ago, people on the individual market could purchase inexpensive health insurance from multiple competing companies in Oklahoma, but now those policies are illegal. It would help many families if cheaper health insurance was legal again.”

Those policies became illegal because they take people’s money without providing a basic level of coverage necessary to prevent bankruptcy or cover services owed for emergency care, hospitalization, etc. They are predatory policies in the same way that loan sharks are predatory lenders.

You wrote, “We are also working to provide options for families who have chronic and serious illness by significantly decreasing their tax burden. Families should be able to choose what coverage options they need at a price they can afford.”

How nice for you to live in such privilege as to assume that everyone HAS a “tax burden”—much less that it could be sufficient enough to be used to solve a major health crisis. People living in poverty and the middle class who you claimed to care about earlier in this letter can NOT divert enough of their taxes to pay for sufficient health insurance or healthcare. Most pay very little in taxes. And refer to the predatory policy information I described earlier. Prior to the ACA’s passing, 75% of personal bankruptcies were due to a healthcare crisis. After the ACA was passed, that number decreased tremendously. THAT is how well those “illegal” policies work. In other words, they do not work at all.

You wrote, “Medicaid used to focus on people with the greatest need in our society, but in the past five years, it has expanded to include able-bodied adults without children.”

Yes—that is what we now call “the working poor.” They are those that you on the Christian Right like to pretend are not working as hard as you are or praying as well as you are and are, therefore, responsible for their own poverty. I guess you and I will have to differ on that point. For the record, Jesus Christ would side with me.

You wrote, “There is no ‘cut’ in Medicaid, only a decrease in the rate of increase.”

PolitiFact rated that as “Mostly False” when Kellyanne Conway said it. I don’t think your saying it makes it anymore true. I’m certain you know as well as she did that it’s false, though, and said it anyway. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Better Care Reconciliation Act–the first bill the Senate considered and one that most closely matches the bill that has already passed in the House–would result in 22 million fewer people insured by 2026 than the current healthcare system. Cuts to Medicaid would reach $772 billion by 2026.

You wrote, “The Affordable Care Act was designed to offer benefits as early as possible and delay the increased costs and burdens for years later. Unfortunately, we are now approaching the time when the highest costs and burdens kick in.”

This is just not true. Again—see my response about Republicans hobbling the ACA through numerous pieces of legislation attacking small pieces of it—death by a thousand cuts. It was the only way you could react when you didn’t hold the White House, I realize, but YOU made this mess, so don’t blame it on the ACA, Democrats, or President Obama. Burdens and costs would not have increased to this degree had Republicans not passed crippling legislation.

You wrote, “We are faced with an additional challenge that President Obama also tasked his Treasury to send billions of dollars directly to insurance companies, even though the law did not allow it and the courts ordered him to stop.”

That’s a half-truth. The GOP sued President Obama over a piece of the legislation and happened to win. You made it sound like President Obama broke the law, which is, of course, what you wanted it to sound like.

You wrote, “These “cost sharing reductions” (known as CSRs) artificially propped up the insurance market and kept rates from rising even faster. Without those payments, the market will continue to destabilize, pricing even more Americans out of coverage and options.”

That’s true. You have the option to continue paying the CSRs. That WOULD stabilize the healthcare market. Everyone thinks so. And it would allow you more time to come up with some bipartisan solutions to FIXING the parts of the ACA that need fixing.

You wrote, “There are healthcare reforms that cannot be accomplished in this bill that must be addressed, such as Obamacare’s redefinition of the 40-hour workweek, increasing prescription drug costs, purchasing insurance across state lines, and several burdensome Obamacare regulations.”

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Obama didn’t singlehandedly redefine the workweek. That is just another in a long list of GOP dog whistles. And those other reforms certainly COULD be addressed in creative ways if you work together across the aisle.

You wrote, “Under Senate rules, these legislative initiatives cannot be included in a reconciliation package and ultimately will require bipartisan support to reach the mandatory 60 votes necessary for passage.”

See? That’s what I just said!

You wrote, “The relevant House and Senate Committees of jurisdiction have already begun the public hearing process on those policy issues,…”

If only that were true…. We have differing ideas about what “public hearings” are. The GOP has had WEEKS AND WEEKS AND WEEKS to hold “public hearings” but, in fact, this bill was drafted not only in “private” but in SECRET—excluding even their own members. If hearings are now “public” then it is too little, too late. To make the cake, frost the cake, decorate the cake, cut the cake, serve the cake and then take the cake to the back room and invite others to toss a few more sprinkles on is NOT a participatory process. It’s still a shit cake.

You wrote, “My focus throughout this process has been the need to get all Senators who disagree about the best way forward on policy details into one room to hammer out the issues created in the aftermath of Obamacare’s implosion.”

Don’t act like you’re a leader on this. You’re not. You have no leadership capacity whatsoever. Leadership is John McCain’s speech on the Senate floor this week. Leadership is standing up for what is RIGHT, no matter the party. Leadership is Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Leadership is making sure ALL of your constituents have healthcare as a fundamental human right.

You said, “People are at the heart of this conversation. We owe them the greatest honor and respect to get this right.”

This sentence says a lot. “We owe ‘them’”. You have set yourself apart. WE, not “them”. We are all in this together. You are supposed to be working for your fellow man (and woman). Not “them.” If this is your intention, however, then you must abandon the Senate healthcare bill because it does not do this. It does not honor “them,” it does not respect “them,” and it does not get it “right” in any way.

You said, “The debate is still ongoing, and I remain optimistic that we can agree on a plan to replace Obamacare. We owe American families who already struggle to put food on the table and gas in the car relief from the increasing costs of health insurance.”

You OWE American families relief from the increasing costs of health CARE—no matter what the solution ends up being. Insurance is the middleman and could become unnecessary in some scenarios. If all you do is decrease the cost of their premiums, while ALSO decreasing their coverage, then all you have done is set us back to where we were pre-ACA, or worse. And, in fact, it looks like “worse” is where we will end up. The Congressional Budget Office expects premiums to go up–steeply!–for almost all Americans, but especially for older people. The ACA was passed because our healthcare system DID NOT WORK! It was not “the good old days” then! Premiums were rising (fast), people were declaring bankruptcy at astronomical rates (almost exclusively due to healthcare), many millions of people could not afford ANY healthcare, nor insurance for healthcare. Those are NOT days we want to return to.

You wrote, “My staff and I will do everything we can to provide you with facts and information…”

You’re going to have to work a lot harder.

 

Leslie Moyer
Hulbert, OK

AHCA Is An Immoral Disaster

How can you call it a “health care plan” when it would deny millions of people insurance and raise medical costs for everyone else?

The American Health Care Act, passed by Republicans in the House last week, is inhumane, an abomination, heartless and a death sentence for millions of Americans. There is no language too strong to describe the cruelty of what the GOP just did. If the AHCA becomes law, it will lead to massive death and pain-filled, excruciating lives. It’s as if the GOP has voted to commit an act of war against American citizens.

It allows states, for example, to opt out of a provision in the current law that prevents insurance companies from gouging people with preexisting conditions. That’s why the “opt out” provision is in the bill. It’s there for a reason. It’s obvious millions of people will get priced out of insurance altogether.

It also slashes funding for Medicaid, leaving 14 million people without any coverage, according to earlier estimates. Oklahoma, which never accepted the federal expansion of Medicaid under the current law, would be hit hard, and even more people would go without much needed health care.

Employers insurance costs are sure to rise under this non-plan, which will be passed on to employees.

Let’s face it: (1) People will either lose their health insurance altogether (2) or pay much more for less coverage while rich people get a tax cut under the AHCA. That’s the Republican plan in all its clarity. It’s not an over-simplification. It’s not an issue of choosing one’s doctor or “freedom” of choice when it comes to treatments.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a former Democratic presidential candidate, had this to say about the bill:

This is not a health care bill. This was a bill that provided $300 billion in tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent at a time when we already have massive income inequality in America today. What kind of health care bill are we talking about when you throw 24 million people off health insurance, substantially raised premiums for older workers, defund Planned Parenthood?

What it might well become is an issue of surviving until a real revolution occurs in this country and we finally get universal, single-payer health care.

No, the ACHA isn’t law yet because it has to go through the Senate. The pundits are speculating it won’t pass there or that the Senate will change it considerably. I’m not so sure of that. These are not normal times. Don’t count on red-state Republicans, who would suffer just like everyone else, to rise up to protect themselves and speak out against the plan.

As I’ve been arguing since the election of Donald Trump as president, showing up on the streets to protest and voting Republicans out of office are the only things that can save our democracy and now, it seems clear, save our very lives. Everyone but the extremely wealthy will suffer if the AHCA in its current form becomes law.

Sen. Coburn Tells Sobbing Woman Gov't Not the Solution

 In a recent townhall with Sen. Tom Coburn a sobbing woman told the all too familiar story of yet another American who can’t get help.  The wife of a brain-injury victim reached out to Sen. Coburn for help at the event.  What was his response?

“I can help you, but government is not the answer.”

Does Sen. Coburn not work for the Government?  Or was he telling her that he as a doctor will come to her home and provide her with free care and teach her how to put feeding tubes in and ensure that a nurse can come to the house and teach her husband to speak again.

It isn’t clear.  Sen. Coburn simply believes that rather than the government dispatching doctors and other health professionals, that instead we as neighbors are far more qualified.

Well done, Sen. Coburn… stay classy.

   Q: Sen. Coburn, we need help. My husband has traumatic brain injury. His health insurance will not cover him to eat and drink. And what I need to know is: Are you going to help him? Where he can eat and drink? We left the nursing home, and they told us we are on our own. He left with a feeding tube. I have been working with him, but I’m not a speech pathologist, a professional that takes six years for a masters’, and I’m trying to get him to eat and drink again [inaud].

   A: Well, I think-first of all, yeah. We’ll help. The first thing we will do is to see what we can do, individually, to help you, through our office. But the other thing that is missing in this debate is us as neighbors, helping people that need our help. [Applause.] You know we tend to … [Applause.] The idea that the government is a solution to our problems is an inaccurate, a very inaccurate statement.

We Must Pass HCR in Kennedy's Name

 “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, & the dream shall never die.” Sen Ted Kennedy

Sen Ted Kennedy advocated tirelessly for health care reform and as his death rings through the halls of Congress surely we can hope that those efforts too will see their final conclusion.  

In a press release from the DNC following the call about HCR with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (a good friend to young people and the youth movement), they emphasized the insurance guarantee that so many young people desperately need.

“President Obama recently announced eight Health Insurance Guarantees.  Under the President’s Health Insurance Guarantees, everyone will benefit, even people who currently have insurance, because any legislation he signs will include these iron clad guarantees – guarantees which will reverse years of unfair insurance company practices: 1) no discrimination for pre-existing conditions, 2) no exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles, or co-pays, 3) no cost-sharing for preventive care, 4) no dropping of coverage for the seriously ill, 5) no gender discrimination, 6) no annual or lifetime caps on coverage, 7) extended coverage for young adults, and 8) guaranteed insurance renewal.”

Surly, young people, indeed all people, deserve the kind of health care that Senator Kennedy also enjoyed.  We should pass Sen. Kennedy’s insurance reform bill in memory of the work he did to help everyone have access to affordable care.

Support Inhofe At Your Own Health Risk

( – promoted by DocHoc)

No one issue defines the difference between the state’s candidates for U.S. Senator this year more than how they approach the current health care crisis.

U.S. Sen. Inhofe, 73, has long been part of a federal legislative system that rewards insurance companies and health management organizations at the expense of ordinary Americans.  Millions of Americans lack health insurance.  Those Americans who have insurance face skyrocketing premiums, increased costs of co-payments and issues like “pre-existing” conditions.  People often go without health care to pay other bills.  Inhofe has sanctioned the current health care crisis with his votes, his lack of interest and Republican ideology.

State Sen. Andrew Rice, 35, the Democrat running against Inhofe, has proven he believes in a better health care system for Americans. We have seen this in his sponsorship and support of bills to require insurance companies to cover routine medial care for those undergoing clinical trials and medical costs associated with autism. We also know he has promised in his campaign repeatedly to use his position as U.S. Senator to work for an overall better health care system for Americans.

“”Every family, every child and every veteran should have access to the same health care options that taxpayers make available to members of Congress,” Rice said recently. This is one of the great moral issues of our time.”

It is hard to conceive of a person or voter-besides a very radical fringe of our culture-who truly does not see the current health care crisis as a moral issue.  Certainly, there is room to argue over the exact approach to solving the health care crisis, but can any rational person believe the insurance companies will voluntary accept lower profits to help people? Our broken system calls for government intervention. The government intervenes if someone kills or physically hurts another person. This same intervention should apply to our health system. Even an increasing number of doctors in this country-some claim a clear majority-now believe we should have some type of universal health care program.

“Health insurance companies decline coverage for what they call ‘pre-existing conditions,’ and they retroactively deny treatment that has been ‘pre-approved’ to stick patients and doctors with the bill for treatment they had been told would be covered,” Rice said. “In addition to providing all Oklahomans health insurance, I will stand up against insurance companies to ensure we have a Patient’s Bill of Rights.”

Inhofe, meanwhile, has consistently sided with insurance companies over ordinary Americans.  He has voted 17 times against Medicare since 1995, according to Rice in earlier statement.  Rice has also pointed out the Senator has accepted $342,166 in campaign donations from the insurance industry as well.

Most of those Oklahomans who support Inhofe in his reelection bid literally do so at the risk of their own health and the health of their children and grandchildren.

Rice: It Can Happen To You

( – promoted by DocHoc)

Image of Andrew Rice

This is from state Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City), pictured right, who is running for the U.S. Senate this year against Republican incumbent Jim Inhofe:

My wife Apple and I were recently reminded why so many Americans are frustrated and anxious about health care.

Our 11-month old son Parker was hospitalized here in Oklahoma City for three days last November with pneumonia.  He received excellent care and, like most youngsters his age, he has rebounded very quickly from what was a scary time for all of us.  But, that is only half the story.

One month later we learned that our health insurance company was refusing to pay the $10,000 hospital bill because they said our baby Parker had a “pre-existing condition.”  I’m not kidding. When we argued that baseless reason away, they changed their excuse to “improper notification” by the treating physician, and said it was not a big deal because the hospital would just “write it off.” They don’t think it is a “big deal” to avoid providing the coverage we pay them for every month, and instead have the Oklahoma taxpayer foot the bill. That tells you something about how they see the world.

Not until they learned that Apple is a physician did the insurance company bureaucrats finally admit they had made a mistake and agreed to pay the legitimate claim.

It is a personal experience that too many Americans face every day, and it symbolizes why I’m running to be your next U.S. Senator.

The career politicians in Washington do not have the courage and integrity to reform this system, while 47 million Americans go uninsured and those of us who are insured must fight a system that is structured to deny claims first and ask questions later!

I want to be your U.S. Senator so I can take some Oklahoma common sense and values to Washington and change the culture of special interests that see everyday Americans as numbers and obstacles to their priorities. My background in Asia and Africa helping the poor and people suffering from HIV and as a divinity school student has guided my principles to stand up for the common good and be a voice for those who are invisible to the interests who think they own Washington.

I am dedicated to reducing the cost of health care and improving access.  When Washington failed to pass S-CHIP into law that would have expanded health insurance coverage for low income children, I worked in the Oklahoma State Senate to expand health coverage to 38,000 children from low-income families.  In the U.S. Senate, I will continue this work and make health care more affordable for all.

I invite you to go to http://www.andrewforoklahoma.com and support my campaign.  I’m in an uphill fight to change the status quo and I cannot do it alone. I also ask that you forward this email to at least 3 friends or colleagues, ask them to sign up to receive our emails, and help spread our campaign for reform. As we are seeing across the country, people are hungry for change, but the status quo is not going to go away easily.

My best to you and your family,

Andrew Rice

State Senator

P.S. I would like to hear about your experiences with your health insurance company. Please send in your story! And do not hesitate to visit my campaign website and sign up to volunteer or contribute.