If there is one particular place in dire need of healthcare reform, it’s surely Oklahoma.
The state consistently ranks low in health studies and access to medical care. Obesity is rampant and 19 percent of Oklahomans don’t have health insurance. Even those who do have insurance sometimes forgo visiting a doctor because of the co-pays and deductibles. Insurance premiums in Oklahoma have increased by 77 percent since 2000.
Oklahoma is a state that would benefit tremendously if President Barack Obama and Democrats can get a healthcare reform bill passed that includes a public government insurance option that would compete against the private health insurance companies to, as Obama has put it, keep them “honest.”
In the case for reform, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathryn Sebelius, pictured right, has released statistical information related to healthcare in Oklahoma and across the nation. The full report on Oklahoma is here. Here are some of the reasons Oklahoma needs healthcare reform, according to the report:
Roughly 1.9 million people in Oklahoma get health insurance on the job, where family premiums average $12,256, about the annual earning of a full-time minimum wage job.
Since 2000 alone, average family premiums have increased by 77 percent in Oklahoma.
Household budgets are strained by high costs: 29 percent of middle-income Oklahoma families spend more than 10 percent of their income on health care.
High costs block access to care: 17 percent of people in Oklahoma report not visiting a doctor due to high costs.
Oklahoma businesses and families shoulder a hidden health tax of roughly $1,900 per year on premiums as a direct result of subsidizing the costs of the uninsured.6
19 percent of people in Oklahoma are uninsured, and 70 percent of them are in families with at least one full-time worker.
The percent of Oklahomans with employer coverage is declining: 54 percent were covered in 2007.
While small businesses make up 78 percent of Oklahoma businesses, only 39 percent of them offered health coverage benefits in 2006.
Choice of health insurance is limited in Oklahoma. BCBS OK alone constitutes 45 percent of the health insurance market share in Oklahoma, with the top two insurance providers accounting for 71 percent.
Choice is even more limited for people with pre-existing conditions. In Oklahoma, premiums can vary based on demographic factors and health status, and coverage can exclude pre-existing conditions or even be denied completely.
The overall quality of care in Oklahoma is rated as “Weak.”
16 percent of children in Oklahoma are obese.
28 percent of women over the age of 50 in Oklahoma have not received a mammogram in the past two years.
45 percent of men over the age of 50 in Oklahoma have never had a colorectal cancer screening.
76 percent of adults over the age of 65 in Oklahoma have received a flu vaccine in the past year.
According to the report, “Oklahoma families simply can’t afford the status quo and deserve better. President Obama is committed to working with Congress to pass health reform this year that reduces costs for families, businesses and government; protects people’s choice of doctors, hospitals and health plans; and assures affordable, quality health care for all Americans.”
Obama’s argument for a public option in which people could choose to be covered by government insurance—the same insurance given to a United States Senator-- instead of their existing private plan has met with resistance from health insurance companies and their Republican allies in the political world. Some Democrats have also criticized the plan.
Critics contend the public option would run private health insurance companies out of business because the government plan would be more efficient and have better leverage in purchasing. This is fear mongering. Health insurance companies would simply have to compete by offering more coverage for less money. Also, the critics contradict their own “government-is-the-problem” ideology when they make this argument. If government is the problem, then why can it do a better, less costly job offering and maintaining a health insurance plan?
Opponents also contend the plan could limit people’s choice of doctors. This, too, is more fear mongering. It’s a public “insurance” plan. Note the word “insurance.” That means an individual could use the insurance with any doctor who would accept it, just like a United States Senator, and that would be virtually all doctors. Ever hear about a senator who couldn't get medical treatment? Again, people could also keep their existing insurance plan.
Here’s the bottom line: The insurance companies want to continue to raise premiums, co-pays and deductible rates, offer less coverage and deny claims. This is their modus operandi. It’s their business model. How can anyone deny that? That’s how they make money. The more claims they deny, the more money they make.
The healthcare industry, in order to protect their profits, has spent 41 percent more this year on lobbying Congress. The cozy relationship between the healthcare industry and some members of Congress is the epitome of the basic rot in the United States political system.
Unfortunately, U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, two of the nation’s most conservative senators, will likely oppose the public option plan. As Oklahoma becomes less healthy and as more Oklahomans end up uninsured, Coburn and Inhofe will cling to the failed ideology of market fundamentalism.
But does anyone really believe the insurance companies will ever reduce costs and lower profit expectations because of some type of natural market correction?
Ruth Marcus, an editorial writer for The Washington Post, recently argued healthcare reformers are too obsessed with the public option and should also be concerned with “effective regulation.”
But how do you instill basic human compassion and decency with politicized and changing regulations that may have loopholes. The current health system is broken because it’s based on a bad model that puts profits above the sick. It’s time to change it.