Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Moral Obligation to Protect the Most Vulnerable

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm

Hello again, everybody! The time comes in every legislative session when an issue arises on which there are bitter divisions among legislators and the people we serve.

When that time arrives, some legislators decide using wild claims to provide political cover is more important than shooting straight with Oklahomans. “Silly Season,” as I call it, officially began last week.

The story starts with consideration of Senate Bill 2114. Many of us hoped the bill would have started a serious discussion about a real patients’ bill of rights.

The bill would have required your health insurance policy to cover treatment your doctor says you need. Doctors would make medical decisions, not insurance company accountants.It was a straightforward bill, without the legalese you often see. A final version would have required far more detail.

The vote that broke down on party lines: every Senate Democrat supported the bill, while every Republican who voted opposed it. For any bill to pass the evenly divided Senate requires support from members of both parties. A party-line vote means a bill fails; that is what happened to the patients’ bill of rights.

The debate on the floor was honest about the policy. While I was disappointed the bill failed, the debate was the kind we should expect from the Capitol.

The measure failed Thursday two weeks ago, and those of us supporting it used a parliamentary move to give us three legislative days to try again: the next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then came the weekend.

Late Sunday night, just hours before we were to return to the Capitol, I received a telephone message from one of my friends in Oklahomans for Life, a group – like me – opposed to abortion. In the message, he said the group was going to oppose the patients’ bill of rights because it would have required coverage for abortions.

I was shocked. That suggestion was never discussed during the debate; even opponents of the bill knew that was not the measure’s intent.

It looks like those who honestly opposed the bill were beginning to feel the heat. Desperate to find some political cover, it took them three days to come up with a farfetched scenario that was in a Monday morning press release.

No one has stood more firmly to protect the unborn than I. To me, it is ludicrous to suggest a patients’ bill of rights is anything other than steadfastly “pro-life.”

I believe we have a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us. Few Oklahomans are more vulnerable than those who drain their wallets to buy health insurance only to have needed treatment denied because some accountant overrules a doctor.

We all deserve an honest debate on this issue. Instead, we got the same old game, and Oklahoma families were the ones who lost.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week and may God bless you all.

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