Insuring Ignorance (Urban Tulsa Weekly)

By Arnold Hamilton

When it comes to ObamaCare, state Insurance Commissioner John Doak should be indicted for political malpractice.

With important elements of the new federal law coming online Oct. 1, you’d expect Oklahoma’s public servants to be hard at work educating the masses on what to expect, how to access the new system, and how to determine for themselves whether it’s an improvement, merely maintains the status quo, or makes things worse.

Sadly, Doak seems to be working to confuse rather than enlighten, spreading as fact preposterous claims that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

“It’s funny how history repeats itself,” state Sen. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City, noted in a recent message to his constituents. “The current situation of certain states fighting against the federal health care system reminds me of when President Lyndon B. Johnson passed Medicare and how many were against that program.

“However, once the program got rolling, people realized how beneficial it could be. Today, Medicare recipients praise the program.”

Like almost every piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act is a work in progress. It’s likely that some elements will work better than expected, others worse.

But surely we can all agree on one thing: The current system is broken.

Some can afford the best health insurance money can buy. Too many others can’t afford insurance at all — nearly 700,000 in Oklahoma alone. Many families are one illness away from financial ruin.

While Doak and friends rail about the evils of Obama’s “socialized” medicine and pontificate about the wonders of the free market, too many hard-working, honorable, never-looking-for-a-handout Oklahomans are forced to ignore their health concerns because of cost.

And then what happens? They often wait until it’s too late and are forced into the hospital emergency room, the world’s costliest medical care.

Rather than wisely investing in wellness care on the front-end, our public policy — driven by powerful special interests, including big insurance — actually discourages regular check-ups, meaning serious illnesses often go undetected for years and end up costing more to treat.

ObamaCare isn’t perfect, but given our current healthcare crisis, isn’t it worth the old college try? We could improve things that worked, jettison things that didn’t, and maybe gain some insights that provide even better ways forward.

Doak clearly doesn’t see it that way. Nor do many of his Republican colleagues, who wouldn’t give Obama credit if he secured world peace.

Indeed, Doak’s demagoguery on the issue reached a fever pitch last week when he asserted insurance rates would “skyrocket” under the Affordable Care Act — a claim debunked almost as quickly as he distributed the news release.

Of course, it reminds me of the famous Mark Twain quote: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Today, the Internet carries it around the globe instantaneously — and onto Faux News and right-wing radio — long before truth can even think about where it left its shoes.

As the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s David Blatt put it, Doak’s “inflammatory press release” contained claims “not based on data, but rather on informal conversations that his staff apparently had with some insurance carriers. Commissioner Doak’s statement is in line with his political opposition to the Affordable Care Act, but it does not reflect… real insurance rates.

“Since the new health plans offered on the exchange will offer comprehensive benefits, comparing next year’s rates with those currently in effect is unlikely to offer an apples-to-apples comparison.”

Doak should note recent news reports about how much Californians and New Yorkers are saving thanks to ACA-created health insurance exchanges — which finally come to Oklahoma on Oct. 1.

As insurance commissioner, Doak should be chief advocate for rank-and-file Oklahomans who all too often are at the mercy of powerful insurance companies. Instead, he’s a toady for the industry and proud of it: in 2011, he told the Tulsa Association of Health Underwriters at the Tulsa Country Club that he believes his job is to “protect their jobs.”

You get what you vote for. In this case, it’s an insurance commissioner who emphasizes political ideology over public service.

You also get a governor so afraid of a Tea Party primary challenge that she reneged on a pledge to accept $54 million to help set up a health insurance exchange.

She also steadfastly refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion even though it would have helped cover hundreds of thousands of working poor at almost no cost to the state.

Fallin recently announced amid great fanfare that she and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority had helped negotiate a one-year reprieve for Insure Oklahoma, the program that helps insure about 30,000 low-income Sooners. It was scheduled to cease operation at year’s end because it didn’t meet requirements of the ACA.

Isn’t it interesting that the Obama Administration agreed to give Insure Oklahoma another year even though Fallin, Doak and others incessantly wail about the evils of ObamaCare?

The anti-Obama crowd crowed about its victory. But the fact is, Insure Oklahoma would have died a painful death had the administration opted to put politics ahead of people.

Now, it’s up to Fallin, Doak, and their cohorts to work with the feds to come up with ways to meet the ACA standards and get as many Oklahomans covered as possible.

Our state’s health depends on it. Our state’s medical facilities, particularly in rural areas, depend on it. Our future economic vitality depends on it.

In the meantime, it’s up to all of us to educate ourselves on the new law — to determine for ourselves its efficacy.

A good place to start would be by attending the Sept. 21 forum “The Affordable Care Act Explained” at the Hardesty Regional Library Pecan Room, 8316 E. 93rd St., from 10 a.m. to noon.


Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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