Oklahoma Consumer Group Blasts Lawmakers, Health Insurers

April 23, 2009

An advocacy group criticized Oklahoma legislative leaders on April 21 for what it described as a host of bills that help the health insurance industry at the expense of consumers.

Dr. Rene McNall Knapp, who specializes in treating children with cancer and blood disorders at OU Health Sciences Center, said legislative leaders failed to hear bills that protect consumers from unfair practices by insurance companies.

“I have seen firsthand how insurance companies will take your premiums and then deny and delay care for you once you are sick,” she said. “Over the last session I have seen how the cronies of the insurance lobby in the state Legislature are refusing to even hear bills that might protect the state’s citizens from these atrocious practices.”

Oklahomans for Healthcare Reform, a consumer advocacy group calling for pro-consumer changes to the health insurance industry, helped organize a rally Tuesday of about three dozen people at the Capitol.

The group is recommending restrictions on lobbying and corporate PAC contributions by insurance companies, prohibiting insurance companies from paying bonuses for denying care, and stopping insurance companies from “cherry picking” by banning discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

State Sen. Andrew Rice said much of the blame lies with the Republican leaders in the House and Senate for failing to give hearings to legislation that favors consumers at the expense of the insurance industry.

“The opposition we’ve had in the building has been with leadership,” said Rice, D-Oklahoma City. “The leadership in the Legislature is unwilling to budge.”

But Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said it’s unfair to criticize leaders of any particular party.

“It’s not a partisan issue to be concerned about health care in Oklahoma,” Anderson said. “There is a huge uninsured population and we need to do all we can to try and fix that problem.

“There is a debate on the right way to go about doing that, and that debate is going on here at the Capitol. I wouldn’t blame the leadership of any particular party for where that discussion is at this stage. It’s just part of the legislative process.”

Anderson said there are some legitimate concerns about the ultimate cost that additional coverage mandates would place on health insurance providers.

“There have been concerns that increasing mandates will ultimately increase the number of uninsured Oklahomans,” Anderson said. “And that’s certainly not what we want to do.”

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