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Dueling local press conferences unfold, Congress votes as health care debate renews

Clark Jolley
Al Lindley & Tom Guild

Republicans in the Oklahoma state Senate last week unveiled their formal legislative agenda for 2011, including a strong emphasis on market-oriented health care reforms and renewed challenges to the new federal health care law they have dubbed “ObamaCare.”

Activist Democrats from Oklahoma County, meanwhile, strongly defended the federal law, and issued a plea to U.S. House Republican leaders not to kill it.

Competing press conferences were held within an hour of one another, allowing strongly clashing views to vie for the attention of reporters at the state Capitol.

At the GOP agenda session for journalists, bullet points were presented to assert the party’s commitment “to affordable and accessible health care.”

These included promises to support Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt in the state’s constitutional challenges to the federal law, and “lawsuit reform so doctors can continue to practice in Oklahoma without malpractice rates forcing them to leave or limit their patient care.” Republicans further promised to “attack fraud and abuse within the Medicaid system.”

The senators committed further their determination to “encourage doctors to stay in Oklahoma and practice in under-served and rural areas to ensure access to quality health care for all.”

Republicans distinguished their state agenda from the national law in part by supporting “greater use of Health Savings Accounts.” They expressed hopes to build “on the success of Insure Oklahoma.”

At their encounter with the press, held soon after the Republican session, the county Democrats argued it is “irresponsible to vote on repealing health reform, when there has been no alternative proposal to address the problems of uninsured Americans, high healthcare costs, and an inefficient healthcare market.”

In a statement sent to The City Sentinel, county Democrat chairman Al Lindley said, “I am deeply disappointed in privileged individuals, who have the best health care coverage that tax dollars can buy, denying even the basic coverage for others.” Lindley is a former member of the state House.

Marguerite Leon, Vice Chair for the county Democrats, commented, “Right now in Oklahoma, there are women who were uninsured and who now have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.”

Dr. Tom Guild, the county party secretary who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in last year’s Fifth District Congressional primary, declared in his statement: “Congress should not repeal our new health care law. We need to keep insurance companies honest. We don’t want to go backwards and deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions and cancel coverage when people get sick. Insurance companies would once again be able to promote their own financial health at the expense of those needing health care.”

The county Democrats pointed hopefully to a recent Associated Press-GFK poll which found “only about 1 in 4 people support repealing the law.”  The local Democrats asserted dire consequences if the new law is repealed.

Arguing for the Republican view of health care controversies, Sen. Clark Jolley, an Edmond Republican, told reporters, “It is unconstitutional to force anyone to purchase insurance. We want to thank our former colleague Scott Pruitt for fighting against the federal health care mandate and promising to litigate to correct this wrong. We also applaud Governor Mary Fallin for supporting him in his efforts.”

Pegging “lawsuit reform” to the interests of Oklahoma’s medical providers, he observed, “We are pushing lawsuit reform as a way to create a more business-friendly environment in Oklahoma. We need to do this not only for business in general but also to encourage doctors to continue practicing in this state.”

Concerning the underserved areas, Sen. Jolley said, “It is absolutely clear that there are underserved areas in the state. We have to find ways to increase the number of health care providers and professionals at all levels.”

Jolley argued that effective programs like Insure Oklahoma and support for Health Savings Accounts help assure “consumers have ‘skin in the game’ in monitoring their own health care expenses.”

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