Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

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.

Divorce Bill Would Create Conflict

Each year now for at least a decade, there has been a smorgasbord of really bad and extremist right-wing bills introduced into the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature, from anti-abortion measures to actions that allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community to religious intrusion initiatives that threaten the teaching of real science in our schools.

Some actually make it through the process and are later overturned by lawsuits. Others don’t make it through the process because somewhere along the line a bit of common sense kicks in among the legislative leadership. It’s a circus, and all of this has been happening in the last eight or nine years as the state faces very real fiscal problems. Nothing like a bit of cray cray to take everyone’s minds off major cuts to education funding, right?

House Bill 1277, sponsored by Rep. Travis Dunlap, a Republican from Bartlesville, is one such bill that needs to get stopped by common sense. The bill, which would restrict no-fault divorce in Oklahoma, would make children more vulnerable to the emotional upheaval of divorce and manufactured even more conflict when it’s terribly unnecessary.

Dunlap was quoted in a local story about the bill this way: “I call it human flourishing or family flourishing or those sorts of things.” Okay, “those sorts of things” really doesn’t sort it all out for anyone. Strong families are diverse and have their own unique qualities. Single-parent families, blended families, singles with a strong friendship network, all can and do flourish.

The bill would restrict the use of incompatibility for divorce for couples married 10 years or more or have minor children or when at least one of them objects to the divorce. The couple then would then have to undergo counseling. I especially think the reference in the current version of the bill stating this could come about “where one party objects in writing” is problematic. What if someone does this simply out of spite or anger? The bill has passed out of a House committee, which is not a good sign that cooler heads might prevail. Maybe the Senate will stop the bill from advancing.

We all know Oklahoma has a high divorce rate, which often lands it in the top ten for divorce among states. Much of this has to do because of marriages among young people, whose religious backgrounds and romanticized notions about marriage distort the reality. The state even implemented the failed Oklahoma Marriage Initiative in 1999 to no avail.

The last thing anyone—from counselors to attorneys— should want to do is to inject vitriol and conflict into a family situation involving children and extend psychological chaos because of some legislator’s archaic beliefs about human flourishing, but this is what the bill is designed to do. Dunlap and other Republicans want to engineer human behavior by implementing legal obstacles, but it doesn’t work that way.

There’s no real legal need for this bill. If a couple with children can agree to divorce amicably then that’s obviously the best solution. The makeup of families and marriage itself has been transforming, evolving and changing over many decades now. More people need to embrace the pluralistic nature of new family structures, but that’s something that takes time, but it’s happening, even in Oklahoma.

State GOP Works To Limit Legal Access

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One has to wonder why investment bankers aren’t the state GOP’s villains du jour.

The greedy actions of Wall Street investment bankers in recent years has brought this country its biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, but here in Oklahoma the Republican mob says the bad guys are lawyers and their clients.

The Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee is slated to consider House Bill 1602, which would cap contingency fees for the state’s attorneys.  This is an unneeded, ideological bill that could prevent people from recovering damages in legal cases because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer or can’t find a lawyer to take their case.

The bill, if eventually approved, would create a ballot measure asking voters to cap attorney contingency fees at 33 percent for the first $1 million recovered and 20 percent for damages exceeding $1 million.  Under the bill, the ballot measure would be presented to voters in the 2010 election.

In a contingency fee arrangement, lawyers only collect money from clients in certain cases if they are successful in suing for damages.  In this arrangement, attorneys work for a percentage of the recovered damages.  This allows people access to the court system because they might not be able to afford steep, upfront legal fees.  The system also encourages lawyers to work diligently for their clients, who may have suffered serious injuries because of negligence.  

HB 1602, sponsored by Dan Sullivan, a Tulsa Republican who is an attorney, is part of this year’s GOP legislative corporate amnesty initiative.  Republicans are trying to limit the rights of people to recover damages from corporations and the amounts they or their attorneys might receive in a lawsuit.

Republicans use the bogus claim that there are too many frivolous lawsuits, which supposedly drive up the costs of doing business. Republicans often disengenuously focus on the high cost of medical malpractice insurance when they push for legal amnesty, but why should insurance companies make off with all the cash? Why not bring more regulation and oversight to the insurance industry to give physicians relief from high costs? Does anyone really think legal amnesty will drop insurance costs?

In the past, Gov. Brad Henry has vetoed corporate amnesty legislation, which is disingenuously called “tort reform” by some Republicans.

Those who oppose the bill include, a consumer and patient advocacy group.  The executive director of the organization is Jeff Raymond.

“Contingency fees are the only way the average citizen can afford to take on a large corporation with virtually unlimited resources and a staff of attorneys,” Raymond recently told The Journal Record, which published a Feb. 4 story that discussed the issue. “While we support Oklahomans having the ultimate say in the direction of the civil justice system, it remains to be seen whether this bad idea should go to a vote of the people.”

Another Republican bill, Senate Joint Resolution 17, sponsored by Patrick Anderson (R-Enid), would create a ballot measure asking Oklahomans to cap noneconomic lawsuits damages at $300,000.  The measure, if eventually approved, would deny ordinary people access to the courts and fail to hold negligent parties accountable for their actions.

The larger picture is that Republicans here are still pushing the failed ideas and ideology of the neoconservative agenda as the state economy begins to tank.  Why don’t the Republican majorities in the House and Senate push for laws to protect Oklahomans from greedy and sometimes corrupt investment bankers? These are the real thieves and scoundrels, not people trying to find an attorney to take their case.

This was initially posted on Okie Funk.–Kurt Hochenauer