Guest Blog (Brad Byers): Health care reform – the battle between fact and myth

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., 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.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

2 thoughts on “Guest Blog (Brad Byers): Health care reform – the battle between fact and myth

  1. How insulting. So in other words Oklahomans are just so stupid they’ll believe anything they’ll hear. We need to explain this health care bill to them like they’re preschoolers.

    Excuse me, Mr. Byers. There will always be a degree of misinformation to even the most positive bills, but you are either naïve or, worse, absolutely misleading to assert that faults of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are nothing more than Internet pranks and we dumb Okies need to stop believing everything we hear. You are apparently unaware that there are droves of intelligent and educated Oklahomans who disapprove of “Obamacare” for legitimate reasons beyond what their cousin sent them in an email forward.

    This article itself is the height of misinformation. I’m sure you would be tickled pink if there were nothing wrong with this health care overhaul and you could simply sum up every criticism of it by saying “don’t believe everything you hear.” Unfortunately that is untrue, and I think you know that.

    As for my personal objections to this act of Congress, I couldn’t care less if it were to provide world-class health care to every American citizen for only $1 a day. The states have not granted the US Congress the power to enact this law under Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, and that makes it wholly improper and illegal in itself. Some people in this country still have have a deep respect for law, and the US Constitution is a higher law than any act of Congress, regardless of the act’s merits or demerits.

    This is Oklahoma and we will govern ourselves.

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