By Patrick B. McGuigan
While the majority of Oklahoma’s elected officials and many legal analysts are decrying the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, issued Thursday (June 28), there are scattered voices in the state praising the ruling – and calling on the Republicans who now control state government to move forward with implementation of the controversial law.
From Tulsa, David Blatt of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, “progressive” think tank, sent these comments to The City Sentinel:
“The Supreme Court ruling to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is a significant victory for consumers, providers, and payers alike. It’s also a wake-up call for Oklahoma, where our leaders have gambled on a wait-and-see strategy that’s left us ill prepared for reform. The decision today underscores the state’s obligation under federal law to move forward with implementation.
“As major provisions of the law take effect in the next two years, many of the state’s 600,000 uninsured residents will gain access to health care coverage. Oklahoma will soon be required to operate an online competitive market for health insurance known as an ‘exchange’ — a one-stop-shop for residents to explore their coverage options.
“We now need to move quickly towards participating in the creation of a robust, consumer-friendly exchange for users to browse, compare, and purchase private plans and/or determine their eligibility for public programs and premium assistance tax credits.
“The Supreme Court also upheld expansion of the Medicaid program, a provision that will particularly benefit low-income uninsured Oklahomans, paid for almost entirely by the federal government.
“For the 1.7 million Oklahomans who are privately insured and happy with their plan, coverage is now more secure and comprehensive. Insurers can no longer deny their claims or drop their coverage without oversight. Their insurer will now cover routine preventive care, like immunizations and cancer screenings, for no co-pay or additional out-of-pocket cost.
“The health law is already working to strengthen consumer protections and ensure that Oklahomans are getting what they pay for from their insurers and providers. It’s now up to state leaders, regardless of their personal political preferences, to move forward quickly to implement the Affordable Care Act.”
Speaking in less measured terms was the Oklahoma state Democratic party, which sent out a gleeful statement calling, among other things, on Governor Mary Fallin to fashion a health insurance exchange, as directed in the legislation that gained 5-4 High Court ratification – albeit with the wisdom of many of the law’ provisions questioned even in the controlling opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts.
State Democratic officials asserted, “Governor Fallin has remarked that this act will cost Oklahomans $500 million which is simply incorrect. We have been led to believe that the healthcare law will ‘add hundreds of billions of dollars to our deficit’ and that ‘we still don’t know how much this law will eventually cost.’ Wrong, and wrong again.”
The state party statement asserted the Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation “will reduce the deficit — by more than $100 billion in the first 10 years, and more than $1 Trillion in the second decade. Passing health reform was the fiscally responsible thing to do, and suggesting otherwise is just dishonest.
“In addition, the affordable care act lowers health care costs for millions of Americans through health insurance exchanges, caps on out-of-pocket payments, tax credits, and expanded access to Medicaid. In fact, most of these benefits were put in place almost two years ago and have been helping Oklahomans afford healthcare ever since.”
Former state Rep. Wallace Collins, now the state Democratic party chairman, commented, “It is immoral for the Republican leadership to gamble with the lives of our citizens and now they should start helping restore Oklahoma.”
Another leading Democrat, state Rep. Mike Brown of Tahlequah, contended in a statement sent to The City Sentinel that the Court’s “landmark ruling on health care reform will have a profound effect on hard-working, middle class families who will be protected from insurance company abuses, such as having unchecked power to cancel policies, deny coverage, or charge women more than men.
“This was a case of David versus Goliath, in which Goliath was the deep-pocketed insurance industry, and David was the 129 million people with pre-existing conditions and millions of middle class families who lacked any security of affordable health coverage.
“I am very pleased that pressure from special interests was not able to take the slingshot out of David’s hand, and that the Supreme Court made their ruling based on the Constitution, not electoral politics.”
Brown, and many other supporters of the controversial legislation, have stressed repeatedly that the controlling opinion on Thursday came from Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. He was appointed to the High Court by appointed by former President George W. Bush.
The press release conveying Brown’s statement characterized as “blasé” the attitude of Republican leaders toward implementation of a state healthcare exchange by late this year.
Concerning development of an exchange, Rep. Brown contends Governor Mary Fallin “flip-flopped on her decision to accept federal dollars for the state exchange, which at the time she said we were lucky to receive. She refused these dollars and refrained from making any other effort to be in federal compliance. So here we are now – our state is short $54 million and Gov. Fallin has egg on her face.
“Like the saying goes, ignorance (or refusal to acknowledge) the law, excuses no one.
“Gov. Fallin and Republican leadership gambled that the Supreme Court would overturn the Affordable Care Act, and did nothing in the meantime, which in my opinion amounts to a dereliction of duty to the people of Oklahoma.”