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Oklahoma stalls on insurance exchange


Dick Beale April 4th, 2012

There is little doubt the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), colloquially known as Obamacare, is one of the most burdensome pieces of legislation ever forced upon American businesses.

Dick Beale

The costs to comply with this law are staggering. Just days ago, the federal bureaucracy released more than 600 pages of proposed regulations related to health insurance exchanges, just one provision of PPACA. Many companies expect to hire full-time staff just to comply with the law, taking resources away from the company’s normal production for an unproductive position.

Given these economic costs, there is little wonder why most Oklahomans vehemently oppose this mandate and are anxious to see the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the law.

While I, too, hope the Supreme Court rids our nation of this excessive regulation, I’m not holding my breath. This is one reason I have been frustrated with our state Legislature. Instead of attacking PPACA head-on with an Oklahoma free-market solution as the alternative to a federally imposed system, legislators have decided to let the Supreme Court decide Oklahoma’s fate.

Despite having a bipartisan bill that would protect Oklahomans, the state Legislature decided not to hear it, using the Supreme Court case as an excuse for inaction. To me, this is “kicking the can down the road,” rather than addressing the problem by establishing a local solution.

One aspect of PPACA is the mandate that each state create an insurance exchange. If a state fails to act, the federal government will create one for the state and force its acceptance. While regulations are still being generated, it is clear a state-based exchange, or marketplace, will have more flexibility and consumer choice than a federally imposed one.

For example, a federal exchange could take knowledgeable local insurance agents out of the picture and replace them with what they are calling “navigators.” A federal exchange could have a single insurance provider, whereas a state-based system would have multiple insurance companies, creating flexibility and competition. (Oklahoma’s “Insure Oklahoma” system has more than 20 companies offering options, and this proven model could serve as the basis for a statewide marketplace.)

According to PPACA — which, like it or not, is the law of the land — if Oklahoma does not show significant progress toward establishing its own system by January 2013, the federal government exchange will be imposed on Oklahomans, removing all freedoms of choice. By law, our legislative session ends in May. The Supreme Court will not release its ruling until June or July. Barring an expensive special session, our Legislature will not be able to act before the deadline.

Instead of making the right — although tough — decision of creating Oklahoma’s own system, our Legislature has punted to an unknown future court decision, potentially jeopardizing any say or freedom Oklahoma consumers and citizens have in choosing health care solutions that meet their needs … not federal dictates.

Beale is founder and senior vice president of Beale Professional Services, an Oklahoma City insurance agency. He serves on the health care committees of the State Chamber of Oklahoma and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.


 
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