From time to time, we use the OK Policy blog to post contributions from guests on important policy issues for the state. Brad Byers is a retired Tulsan whose professional experience includes having been public affairs officer for the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council and the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as executive editor of Southern Living Magazine.
People are quick to believe anything that fits their view of the world, their ideology. Even when presented with facts that prove their belief is false, they stick to their belief.
And this is the problem of health care reform in Oklahoma.
At a June 18 forum in Tulsa, three visiting experts explained the benefits of the new national health care law, known officially as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “For the first time in America, health care is for everyone,” said Tricia Brooks of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. The net effect should be a huge improvement in the availability of health care to a large percentage of Oklahomans. Immediate benefits include a high-risk pool for persons who previously could not get insurance because of pre-existing conditions, coverage for children with pre-existing conditions, coverage for young adults up to age 26 on their parents’ policies, tax credits to small businesses to help pay health premiums, and a gradual closing of the prescription drug “doughnut hole” for Medicare recipients.
Speakers also discussed some shortcomings of the law – such as the absence of enough methods to control medical costs. But Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland told the group that careful oversight and possible future legislation can help overcome such shortcomings.
But, in Oklahoma a major obstacle remains.
That obstacle is the belief of many Oklahomans that the new law is bad. And, the fact that Oklahoma legislators put onto the November election ballot a provision to amend the state constitution. That amendment would bar citizens of the state from being compelled to participate.
Even though the constitutionality of such an amendment is highly questionable, if it passes in November it might delay uninsured Oklahomans – and state agencies — from participating until a costly legal challenge has been completed.
Much of the discussion at the forum dealt with how to inform citizens about what the law actually provides, as opposed to the many negative claims made by hostile politicians and media commentators. Suggestions included holding forums for health care workers and administrators, outreach sessions at the libraries, discussions with members of the groups represented at the forum, neighbor-to-neighbor conversations, campaign speeches by candidates for local and state offices, and letters to newspapers.
Clearly, the challenge is huge in a state where public opinion seems to oppose any program, on any subject, that the current Administration in Washington puts forth. For example, the sole comment by a physician at the forum was a complaint that the law does not include tort reform. This, despite evidence that medical malpractice insurance and lawsuits account for no more than one to three percent of total health care costs (see this 2003 Congressional Budget Office report and this 2008 RAND Corp. preliminary study). In addition, the new law does nothing to change the problem of malpractice lawsuits. Repealing the law would not change the situation. And the new law does not prohibit future tort reform.
Viral emails circulate wildly, attacking the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with false claims based only on the imaginations of the law’s opponents. Many of us receive such emails from close friends and family. Even members of Congress repeat these claims. When we research them and show they have no basis in fact, people still believe them.
Factcheck.org, a project of independent Annenberg Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania makes this statement: “We’ve seldom seen a piece of legislation so widely misrepresented, and misunderstood, as the new health care law. We stopped counting the number of articles and items we turned out on the subject after the total reached 100”.
One current email in Oklahoma claims that citizens will have to pay income tax on the amount their employers contribute to their medical insurance. This claim is false.
And it brings us back to the original problem. People believe what they want to believe. Facts make no difference.
The opinions stated above are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.