Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Open Door Policy - July 19, 2010

I hope everyone is staying safe in this heat. It has been miserable for many of the people and animals out in the daytime. Please remember to drink plenty of water, and if you have outside pets, keep water available for them in something that will not tip over. We received a notice at the Capitol recently about pets going without shade and water and asking us to communicate this message to our districts.

It has been just has hot around the Capitol with several of the campaigns starting to to get nasty. I hope everyone remembers that election day is next Tuesday, July 27th for the primary elections to select people within the political parties for the November ballot. We have several great candidates for office so I hope we see a high turnout to select the best on election day. Good luck to all of the people who have put their names on the ballot.

I recently proposed a change in the way we pass bills at the State Capitol. In years past, we have allowed authors to have complete control to change bills in the final days of session if the legislation is in conference committee, and even remove amendments passed by the body from these bills. I suggested we allow the bills go through the same committee in each body which originally heard the legislation. This will provide a great deal of accountability and transparency on these bills. I've had bipartisan support shown on this suggestion, so we will see how that goes when session starts back in November following the elections.

We will have plenty to talk about with this and other issues at the town hall meetings I have slated for the next few weeks. This upcoming Thursday, July 22, will be at Apache at the Clark-Bohart Community Building and the following week, Thursday, July 29, will be at the Elgin Senior Nutrition Site. At Apache, the band, Cooter Brown, will also be playing after we eat. I hope you will be able to make it to one of the upcoming town hall meetings in your home area. I have a full list posted on my website at if you want to see when the closest to you will occur.

Finally, I want to thank my good friend, Mike Doyle, for his service as my treasurer over the past eight years. Mike has been a huge help on assisting me with tax policy and was key to helping get the tax credit passed for students showing livestock. Mike is going to take a break from politics and focus more on his business and family. The Doyle's had a tragic loss with the passing of his nephew from a train accident a few weeks ago. Joey Doyle worked with me one year on campaigns and was currently studying law in Washington, D.C. He was a good man and will be missed by all his friends and family. Mike celebrated his birthday on Monday with family and friends and will still be an active part of the community, but wants to focus on things closer to him and I appreciate all the work he has done for our area. Jered Davidson of Broxton will be taking over as my campaign treasurer and I appreciate his work as my former intern and the effort he puts in for the State 4-H Foundation.

It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

State Employee Health Insurance Reform

During my last three updates I have written about the reforms proposed in this year’s Senate Bill 2052 -- and I have explained our goal of driving down costs to Oklahoma taxpayers by providing health insurance to state and education employees.

The bill sought to use some of the more innovative concepts which are working in the free market. I believe if these ideas were replicated by more businesses in the private sector and organizations such as the state of Oklahoma, the result would be a reduction in health care costs. This would deprive the federal government of their number one issue for advocating for the expansion of the federal government’s role in health care.

I originally wrote this series of articles in response to a constituent who supports the federal legislation. He asked why those of us who oppose the federal legislation did not introduce ideas of our own, so I made a note to write about innovative ways to control health care costs.

It is important to note that these innovative reforms were not the only components of Senate Bill 2052. The effort to draft this legislation started after the state’s self insurance program failed to pay many doctor’s claims in a timely manner. This prompted a number of health care providers to contact their legislators and ultimately resulted in the creation of a legislative working group to review the manner in which the state manages its health insurance program. The legislation evolved to address any number of health care reform issues, most of which I have not yet had the opportunity to write about.

One major outcome of this legislation (had it not been vetoed by the Governor) would have been the consolidation of the two agencies which manage health care benefits. There has been enormous tension between these two agencies because consolidation has been viewed by past legislatures as the logical starting place for achieving cost savings due to the duplicative nature of their organizational structures. Each of these agencies has worried about being consolidated into the other and this tension has resulted in a huge amount of political intrigue as they have battled for survival by building relationships with legislators over the years.

Because of these battles, the consolidation has never been implemented, even though the streamlining of benefits administration is extremely practical. Senate Bill 2052 represented the breakthrough that put aside politics, consolidated administrative functions and sought to realize what may have amounted to million of dollars in savings for Oklahoma taxpayers.

I have enjoyed the opportunity to present this legislation to the House and look forward to advancing these reforms once again during the next legislative session.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dorman Seeks to Shine Light on Conference Committee Process

State of Oklahoma
House of Representatives

July 16, 2010

Representative Joe Dorman
House District 65

State Capitol Building
2300 North Lincoln Blvd., Rm. 325
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105

Contact: Valorie Rodgers

Dorman Seeks to Shine Light on Conference Committee Process
OKLAHOMA C IT Y (July 16, 2010) One state lawmaker plans to present changes for both Senate and House rules for the coming legislative session to address much of the chaos inherent in the conference committee process, therefore opening the legislation up to more public access.

“I want to bring more clarity and transparency to the process with my suggestions, which I hope will be well-taken given the growing consensus that the current procedure in place has created an environment of secrecy, which is the last thing anyone wants when making laws,” said Rep. Joe Dorman , D-Rush Springs. "Ultimately, it is time the legislators quit talking about transparency in government and put up or shut up."

Representative Dorman serves on the House of Representatives Rules Committee and the Administrative Rules and Agency Oversight Committee, and has a wealth of experience dating back to his almost seven years as a staff member for the Oklahoma House of Representatives prior to being elected.

“I think that if both the House and the Senate embrace a few modifications in either the joint rules which govern proceedings, or in the individual rules of both bodies, we can do a better job as legislators by having the ability to make well-informed decisions on legislation when it hits the chamber floor,” said Dorman. "This has been a problem which has gone on for decades and it is time both sides of the legislative branch and both parties allow openness in the process.”

Rep. Dorman states he plans to propose that all bills sent to conference committee should be returned to their respective committee of origin, or the first committee to hear the bill in the legislative body, in which an actual meeting must occur with attendance of the sitting members. Currently, bills in conference committee are not assigned to committees but to conferees, a majority of which must sign off on the changes in order for the bill to be considered “out” of committee from each body.

"Often times, these conferees are the friends of the author that will be too trusting of the language and sign off on the sheet," said Dorman. "This is when the sweetheart deals are inserted in the process and often have a negative effect on the state."

With Rep. Dorman’s recommendations, a meeting must be held in both the Senate and House to adopt proposed changes. He is also seeking to require at least a 24-hour notice of these committee meetings with the planned agenda in order to allow the public to attend.

"Often times, the public, including the press, has no idea when a bill is being signed out with a conference sheet and they see the bill at the same time as legislators, which in instances in the recent past, has been twenty minutes before a bill will be voted upon by the members, if it is in the waning hours of session," said Dorman. "Each of the candidates for leadership positions has promised transparency and if they don't accept my suggestions, I hope they will present something equal, if not more open."

He is also hoping for rule changes to give committee members the opportunity to amend legislation in committee if significant changes are made from the previous version of the bill, rather than a simple acceptance or rejection of the version presented. As both bodies have to agree on final language, this could slow down the process and prevent procrastination and attempts to pass language members have not previously seen.

“Everyone knows the current process is complicated, and in my opinion, unnecessarily difficult. We can open up the process, provide more transparency and accountability in lawmaking, and do a better job for those who elected us to office if we adopt changes to shine some light on the conference committee process,” said Dorman.

Dorman recently served as an advisor for Oklahoma at the Conference on National Affairs, a program sponsored by the YMCA to encourage high school students to present proposals on how to change national policy for the better. Over 600 students nationwide attended nationwide and several proposals addressed Congressional accountability, including proper understanding of the bills passed by the legislators.

"It is a little generational, and would probably apply to Bob Dylan for my age group, but one delegate summed it up perfectly on this issue to allow time to read and understand Congressional bills and their consequences: 'Legislation is like a Lady GaGa song: No one understands the lyrics, but everyone is expected to dance along,” said Dorman. “It is time we provide that openness and understanding on legislation at the Oklahoma State Capitol."


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Monday, July 12, 2010

Driving Down Health Care Costs Through the Implementation of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

I was privileged to serve on the legislative task force charged with designing this year’s omnibus state employee health care insurance reform plan (Senate Bill 2052). In creating this plan we attempted to draw heavily on best practices which are stabilizing health care costs for other organizations.

One of those best practices is the plan used by the State of Indiana to incentivize the wise use of its state employee health insurance plan through the implementation of Health Savings Accounts.

The Indiana plan was developed by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels in an effort to provide a consumer directed health care option to state employees.

In the Indiana's HSA, the state deposits an amount of money into an account which is controlled by the state employee, from which the employee pays all his or her health bills. This amount of money can be used to pay co-pays and deductibles and unused money can roll over from year to year. The idea is that plan participants will become more cost-conscious, have a sense of ownership over the money and thus be more careful about over-utilization of health care services or overpayment related to health care charges.

The plan has proven to be popular in Indiana as 70% of its state employees have chosen to use this plan compared to just 2% of public sector employees across the nation. Savings have also been significant as participants in the plan save more than 8 million dollars per year when compared to participants in traditional health care plans. Indiana HSA plan participants spent just 65 dollars for every 100 dollars expended by those taking part in the traditional health care plan.

It is this cost savings that we attempted to achieve in Senate Bill 2052. Working with the organizations representing public employees we sought to guarantee that future state employee health insurance benefit increases would be rolled into funding this plan.

Common sense suggests that when an employee is given the opportunity to have direct ownership over his or her health care dollars, they will make choices to protect that balance from unnecessary expenditures. However, if we continue to utilize a traditional one-size-fits-all health care insurance funding option then it is to be expected that costs will continue to increase. Governor Daniels summed it up this way, “What seems free will always be overconsumed, compared to the choices a normal consumer would make.”

I was very disappointed that our Governor chose to veto Senate Bill 2052. I look forward to once again passing this reform and the health and wellness reform which I wrote about last week. I believe we will have this opportunity when the new Governor takes office next year.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Using Market-Based Health Care Principles to Save Taxpayer Dollars

Last week I wrote an update in which I opined the necessity for state leaders to closely observe the ways free market organizations are using best practices to drive down health care costs. Like all state government spending, it is extremely important for us to work hard to maximize taxpayer dollars through the application of market-based solutions, and pass on as much savings as possible. It is also important for these solutions to be utilized to stop the increase in health care costs and thus take away the primary argument for those who wish to expand the role of the federal government in health care.

Last year I sent out an update stating that I would be involved in a legislative working group charged with analyzing the government’s employee insurance program. A constituent recipient of the update encouraged me to look at the program used by the Safeway Corporation to stabilize their health insurance cost. This concept would become one of the most important components of the state employee health insurance reform proposal (SB 2052) passed by the Legislature but vetoed by the Governor.

The Safeway plan is completely voluntary and drives down costs by incentivizing wellness and prevention by rewarding plan participant through lower health insurance premium costs.

The Safeway plan focuses on two base prevention concepts. The company ascertained that 70% of health care costs are the result of the lifestyle choices and 74% of all health care costs are related to the following four chronic conditions: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. They believe that 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes are preventable, 60% of cancers are preventable, and at least 90% of obesity cases can be prevented.

The company observed that these conditions could be prevented by incentivizing employees to voluntarily address the issues of tobacco usage, healthy weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The results have been dramatic. Since the program was started in 2005, Safeway has kept their per capita health care cost stable at a time when most companies’ costs went up by 38%. Their obesity and smoking rates are roughly 70% of the national average. 78% of employees rated the plan positively and many employees lost weight and lowered blood-pressure and cholesterol levels.

In my view, it is our job as Oklahoma legislators to implement a similar program and pass on the savings not only to state government entities, but also to county and school board governing entities which use the state employee insurance programs.

Incorporating a localized version of this program in Senate Bill 2052 was something which the entire legislative working group insisted on. Our version of this approach was designed to save taxpayer funds and to allow employees to lower their deductible and co-pay costs. I believe we are still committed to securing legislative approval for the concept in the next legislative session.

Most importantly, this approach addresses the right way to achieve health care reform because it will encourage employers working with their employees to drive down the cost, instead of the federal government getting involved with various mandates.

Next week I will write about another of the market-based concepts incorporated into Senate Bill 2052.