Monday, June 28, 2010

Free Market Solutions to Health Care Costs

I have always enjoyed the dialog I have with House District 31 residents following the release of my weekly update. Their responses to these updates provide the opportunity to have an ongoing conversation about the issues of importance and I absolutely benefit from that feedback.

I recently wrote an update about the effort to allow you to vote on opting-out of the federal health care proposal. You will have this opportunity in November. In response to that update one of the individuals who supports the federal health care proposal wrote in response stating that it is important for those of us in opposition to point to alternatives to the proposed federal government action. She is absolutely right to make this point. As I have observed the legislative process it seems to me that there is little more frustrating than dealing with a policy maker who says "no" to other people's ideas but does not come forward with ideas for providing another solution. I informed her that I would endeavor to write future updates about the possible solutions to health care cost issues which could be incorporated without government involvement. This is one of those articles.

In this case the problem is the rising cost of health care insurance. This rising cost has given liberal politicians all the ammunition they need in order to attempt to provide lower cost government solutions.

I am a big believer that given time the free market will provide these solutions. I was very much re-affirmed in that belief starting in the spring of 2009 when I was appointed to participate in a working group which was seeking to analyze some of the challenges faced by the state employee health insurance system. This working group evolved into a type of statutorily created task force whose suggestions were incorporated into legislation this past year. During that time I believe I invested more of my time into researching and advocating for reforms to the state employee health insurance system than to most other areas of policy.

As you might imagine, one of the largest costs to the State of Oklahoma is the insurance it provides to the thousands of state employees and their dependants as well as the employees of other government entities such as school districts and county governments.

As a working group one of our tasks was to look at free market solutions and seek to apply these solutions in order to realize cost savings to the taxpayers and the various government entities which must purchase this insurance.

Working with State Representative Lewis Moore and State Senators Cliff Aldrige and Bill Brown and House and Senate leadership we worked to create an initiative which included free market approaches to driving down health costs, secured the support of the state employee and teachers associations and won legislative approval before being unfortunately and somewhat unexpectedly vetoed by the Governor.

During next week's update I will write about these solutions and my vision for their possible inclusion in future legislation.

Dorman to Hold Three Interim Studies on Health Care

Oklahoma House of Representatives
Media Division
June 28, 2010

Contact: State Rep. Joe Dorman
Capitol: (405) 557-7305

Dorman to Hold Three Interim Studies on Health Care

OKLAHOMA C IT Y – State Rep. Joe Dorman announced today that he will be conducting three interim studies examining health care issues.
“Two of the three studies are focused on health care issues affecting seniors, while one will look at online access to medical records,” Dorman said. “I have been reviewing these issues over the past several months and am pleased that I will be able to conduct in-depth studies of each. My hope is to come up with first rate legislation to address each issue in the upcoming session.”
Expanding the Advantage Plus program is the subject of the first study, Dorman said.
“We will be using this study to look for ways to help more seniors qualify for the program,” Dorman said. “Many Oklahomans are disqualified due to a savings account or some form of nominal income, but still fall well below the financial means they need for survival. I requested the study because I was contacted by a constituent who draws a monthly check for about $50 from outside resources, which makes her ineligible. It’s obvious that the current qualification guidelines are arbitrary and impractical.”
Dorman’s second study will focus on emergency generators and plans in assisted living facilities.
“After the ice storms earlier this year, emergency preparedness is a must for protecting aging Oklahomans who require daily or weekly assistance,” Dorman said. “We are going to figure out where we stand currently and then analyze potential resources to assist with the purchase of generators for those facilities that don’t have them.”
A third study will examine online access to medical records in an attempt to reduce patient costs and duplication of services.
“I want to find a way to allow individuals to select an option to have their medical records placed online and made accessible through a card to show health care providers what medical tests have been conducted,” Dorman said. “This was requested by a doctor as a way to reduce the amount of time spent on the phone with insurance companies to see which procedures will be covered by a patient’s insurance.”
Dorman said states must resolve local health care problems.
“With the concerns we see out of the federal health care program, now more than ever, states need to be ready to resolve potential problems and have the best system in place for Oklahomans through both private means and available public resources,” Dorman said.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Open Door Policy - June 22, 2010

I hope everyone had a great Father's Day! I had the pleasure of spending the day with some of my cousins and thinking about my own dad. Our church sermon was tied in with what did we most importantly learn from our fathers. I feel like one of the things my own dad taught me was the willingness to help others and to make personal sacrifices when you are able to help someone else in need. I miss my dad, but treasure the time I had with him and the lessons I learned to make me a better person.
I had the pleasure of attending some fantastic events this past weekend. On Friday, I was honored to represent the Comanche County House delegation in presenting to Great Plains Career Technology Center Superintendent Jim Nisbett a citation of appreciation for his service in education. Jim announced his retirement after 45 years of service to students in Oklahoma. As the event had humorous overtones, I gladly reminded him that was six years longer than I have been alive. He, along with the rest of the attendees, had a great evening and it has been a pleasure working with him over my term of service.
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend an event which was very emotional. Each year, the OKC YWCA holds the Purple Sash Gala, their annual fundraiser to support their domestic abuse shelter. I have toured this facility and heard stories from women who have received help from this effort. It was an amazing evening, both listening to the stories of those personally affected by this program and also to see the hundreds of donors show up and lend their support. I donated items to the auction to help with the efforts, one of which was lunch with myself and Lt. Governor Jari Askins. I was pleased to see all the auction items bring in thousands of dollars for this cause. I also intend to introduce a bill to create an income tax check-off so citizens can easily donate to this worthy effort.
If you are in immediate danger from abuse, dial 9-1-1; if not in immediate danger, call 2-1-1 or the following numbers for help:
Oklahoma Safeline - 1-800-522-7233 (SAFE);
Grady County - Chickasha - Women's Service & Family Resource Center - 800-734-4117 (in state only);
Caddo and Comanche County - Lawton - New Directions - Crisis: 580-357-2500; Shelter: 580-357-5441.
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, June 14, 2010

Making Progress

A few weeks ago I wrote an update regarding the effort to ask the Oklahoma Ethics Commission to create a "No Gifts List" by which lawmakers who do not wish to receive personal gifts from lobbyists would have an official mechanism for making their intentions known.

When I first entered the Legislature, I did so on a platform that I would not accept personal gifts or political contributions from lobbyists or groups which hire lobbyists and I have since indicated this desire by posting a sign on my office door to make it clear that these gifts should not be left at my office. I have often said that if just a few lawmakers will prove it is possible to hold office without taking from lobbyists then eventually Oklahomans in other districts will start to expect that their elected official will make this same commitment.

At the time of my first election, legislators collectively accepted tens of thousands of dollars of personal gifts. The majority of this gift giving was related to meals and entertainment. Paying for expensive meals has historically been the tool by which lobbyists built friendships with legislators, subsequently ensuring they have a pre-existing relationship with the policy makers who vote on legislation affecting their clients. The thought that the legislators could pick up their own tab has historically been rather alien in form.

Since that time, with the institution of new ethics rules, the amount of gift giving has dropped to just a fraction of what it used to be. Not only that, but a number of lawmakers are now willing to come forward and assert their desire to avoid receiving these gifts.

When I wrote the letter to the Ethics Commission I asked several of my colleagues if they would be willing to sign the letter along with me. I was very excited when six of these individuals expressed their willingness to sign the letter and support the "No Gifts List" proposal.

They were State Senators Bill Brown, Anthony Sykes and Randy Brogdon and State Representatives Charles Key, Mike Reynolds and Mike Ritze. In my view, signing the letter represented a very courageous effort by these individuals.

In addition Senators Anthony Sykes and Jim Halligan and Representative Mike Reynolds have also posted signs in their offices politely stating that they do not wish to receive lobbyist gifts.

In other words, the belief that it is inappropriate for legislators to receive personal gifts from the vested special interest is slowly becoming institutionalized. I believe we will see the day when legislators no longer live the high life on the lobbyist dime. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my colleagues who are pioneering this line of thought and in so doing are establishing a stronger ethical standard which I believe will be followed by Oklahoma's policy makers in the future.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Immediate Effects of Fee Increases

In the last few days I have started to see firsthand how the legislative actions of the past few weeks are having an immediate effect on those I represent. Last week, I was contacted by an individual who lives in my district. He is a small businessman who owns a vending machine business. He places vending machines at several locations in the Oklahoma City area and supplies those machines with various products.

Over the past few years his bottom line has been affected in all of the ways you might expect. From the increased cost of fueling his supply truck to the increased cost of purchasing the products that go into the vending machine, he has been dealing with all of the inflationary pressures that most small business owners are experiencing. You can only imagine how shocked he was when on Tuesday of last week he saw a news story explaining the implications of legislation which was passed late in the session. The bill was designed to increase state government revenue by 5.7 million dollars by tripling the annual fee which vending machine operators must pay to the state (from $50 per machine to $150 per machine). This is a 300% fee increase on these businesses.

This fee will be devastating to the small business owners who will now face a series of tough decisions regarding the profitability of their business. The first step they will have to take will be to remove vending machines which are marginally profitable. The fee increase alone may erase the entire profitability of some of the marginal revenue producing machines. This will result in less availability of these products to the public and will mean that fewer vending machines stamps will be purchased from the state, which in turn will result in declining revenues to the government. In other words, those who designed this plan as a revenue enhancement may actually be thwarted in their attempt to generate additional revenue.

In other locations, the vending machine suppliers may simply choose to try to pass on the cost of the increased fees to the public. This means you and I will pay the cost through higher prices. However, this, too, will result in declining revenues, because higher prices will result in less demand and thus fewer products being sold. In some cases, older vending machines do not allow for pricing above a certain amount. This means that the vending machine companies will have to replace otherwise fine equipment in order to raise prices.

My constituent is in the process of computing the numbers and determining if he will be able to remain in business. If he does remain in business, it will likely be with fewer machines. This means less buying options for the public, less revenue for the government and a clear demonstration of the punitive effects of this type of policy on the state's economy. It is state government's job to provide an economic climate which makes it easier for small businesses to succeed. State government should never punish small businesses with a 300% fee increase.