FOR years, Oklahoma Republicans have opposed insurance mandates, once killing a bill mandating coverage for certain autism treatments. That was the right call. The mandate would have increased consumer costs and ultimately increased the number of uninsured Oklahomans. Plus, some autism treatments weren't clinically proven and insurers were already starting to voluntarily offer targeted coverage.
The current crop of Republican lawmakers seems to have forgotten those lessons. Under Senate Bill 765, legislators would mandate insurance coverage of a pill form of chemotherapy. As with the autism mandate, proponents tell heart-rending stories of individual woe and paint insurance companies as greedy vultures. Yet the reality of mandates remains the same: They interfere with market flexibility, impact the cost of insurance and can increase the number of people without coverage.
The bill's proponents did their best to ignore reality. Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, said 50 percent of insurance companies already provide the coverage and claimed the bill benefited all insurers by reducing costs, saying the price difference between two versions of one particular treatment was $50,000.
This led Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, to sensibly ask, “Why not let the private sector make their own mistake and lose this money? Why do we have to save them from themselves?”
Indeed. No one forces consumers to buy insurance from companies providing shoddy coverage. If Derby's figures are correct, those insurers would appear headed for insolvency. Even in the best light, SB 765 appears a triumph of political posturing over substance.
Unfortunately for its supporters, Rep. Glen Mulready made clear the mandate is what it seems — heavy-handed political interference in the free market. Mulready, R-Tulsa, said all insurance plans already cover oral chemotherapy drugs. The bill, he noted, mandates how insurers pay for chemo pills by requiring coverage under the prescription portion instead of the medical portion of the plan.
Mulready noted the bill also includes price controls; patients would pay no more than $100 for the chemo pill. In comparison, $150 to $200 co-pays are common for other specialty drugs. Given that, is it believable lawmakers won't soon attempt similar command-and-control economic regulation elsewhere — with predictable negative consequences?
Since 60 percent of Oklahomans work for self-insured companies exempted from the mandate, Mulready noted the bill's impact would be “solely on the backs of small businesses.” He even compared the bill to Obamacare, saying it was based on the same “overreach of government.”
“We are stepping in and we're telling the small businesses in our state, ‘No. We know better than you do,'” Mulready said. “‘We are going to take choices away from you. You cannot choose to have a plan where your cancer drugs are covered under your medical plan in order to save 1 percent in premium.'”
Derby's main rebuttal was to note Mulready is an insurance agent. Actually, that's reason to pay attention to Mulready's opinion of an insurance bill.
Instead of reducing prices, SB 765 would shift costs and restrict consumer choice. No matter what, consumers ultimately will pay the price. This bill is a good idea only if you believe politicians know more about structuring and pricing insurance policies than the private market — excluding lawmakers with actual subject-matter expertise. Apparently, SB 765's proponents think those guys should just keep quiet.
Fortunately for free-market conservatives, Mulready is talking.