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Roundup of Oklahoma editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, Aug. 24, 2015

Few with autism gain from insurance mandate

Perhaps it's inevitable, but every few years there seems to be an effort to make coverage of autism treatments mandatory for Oklahoma insurance policies. Yet the vast majority of families of children with autism would receive no benefit from such a mandate, as even backers of that proposal have conceded.

Under federal law, policies provided by employers with self-insured plans are exempt from state mandates. So state mandates apply mostly to policies sold on the individual market. Thus, if a family has insurance through an employer, there's a good chance an autism mandate wouldn't apply to them.

That point should not be overlooked. In 2008, a state lawmaker pushing for enactment of an autism mandate distributed an actuarial study by James Bouder of the Vista Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based autism advocacy group. The analysis predicted minimal impact on Oklahoma insurance rates, but this was mostly because the mandate applied to so few policies.

At that time, 63 percent of private-sector Oklahoma workers were enrolled in their employer's self-insured plan. All those policies were exempt from a state mandate. Another 18.6 percent were uninsured and would receive no benefit. Therefore, the mandate would have applied to only a relative handful of Oklahomans.

We have generally opposed insurance mandates. Taken one at a time, such mandates might have minor impact on rates. But taken together, they quickly drive up costs, make insurance less affordable and effectively outlaw policies that cover only catastrophic situations. One of the major problems with Obamacare is that it mandates coverage of a wide range of services, forcing consumers to purchase such coverage whether they need it or not. This is one reason Obamacare rates are increasing by double digits today.

It's far better to allow consumer choice to drive the market instead of bureaucratic dictates.

It's true that relatively few policies currently cover autism treatments, but this is due in part to the fact that many autism treatments are considered educational services, not true medical care.

While Oklahoma doesn't mandate autism coverage in insurance policies, this does not mean state policymakers have ignored the needs of children with special needs. The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act provides state funds so children with special needs can attend private schools with services tailored to those kids. Unlike an autism mandate, that program benefits nearly all affected families.

In Oklahoma City, the scholarship program has allowed the creation of the Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy, which provides intensive intervention based on Applied Behavior Analysis. Many children with autism attend the school. It serves students ranging from 2-year-olds to those in the eighth grade.

That approach provides more services for a longer period of time to more children than do many state autism mandates. Some states' autism mandates apply only to young children; many have benefit limits that can be less than the cost of treatment. A 2012 MedClaims Liaison and Autism Speaks survey found more than half of families affected by autism in states with autism mandates complained that their providers didn't accept their insurance, and most described their autism coverage as "poor" or "unacceptable."

By and large, autism mandates offer more hype than substance to desperate families. In contrast, the Henry scholarship program has been life-changing for many children with special needs. Policymakers should build upon that success, not divert their focus to less-effective alternatives.


Tulsa World, Aug. 24, 2015

Lift up women, lift up all Oklahomans

We appreciate the recent and very candid remarks of Rep. Kim David, R-Porter, before the Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County about women speaking up for women.

Here's what she said:

"People think the Republican Party has a war on women because we let the men speak for us too often. They don't say it quite the way we would say it. Women have to be the ones standing up and putting the message out about what our values are."

She's right, and not just about her own party. It is not a partisan issue; it's a political issue.

A woman's place is in the House . and the Senate.

One of the best ways women can articulate their viewpoint is by putting more women in the Legislature and other leadership roles.

The Tulsa area is represented by some strong women to the Legislature: Sen. David; Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa; Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa; Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, and Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa. In our judgment, they work tirelessly on behalf of Oklahoma.

The second ranking member of the state House of Representatives — Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney, R-Cushing — clearly is an opinion shaper at the state Capitol, not to mention a former member the Legislature, Gov. Mary Fallin.

But the Legislature is still male dominated. Only 17 of its 149 members are women — 12 in the House, five in the Senate — one of the lowest ratios in the country. Individually, their voices are strong and generally wise. We wish there were more like them.

Sen. David is right. Women can speak for themselves, without anyone's help, and they should. This is their message: Lift up women and you lift up all Oklahomans.


Muskogee Phoenix, Aug. 21, 2015

Changing eligibility rules for sentence commutation is right thing to do

Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board is doing the right thing by changing eligibility requirements for inmates seeking sentence commutation.

Currently, any inmate with 20 years remaining on their sentence may apply for commutation.

The change most likely will affect inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes. Those inmates would be eligible for consideration to commute their sentences after serving three years.

If an inmate applies for commutation of his or her sentence, the Pardon and Parole Board can deny the request, may recommend shortening the sentence to a specified number of years, or can commute to time served.

The governor has the final say on all commutations in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma's prisons are busting at the seams with inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes — particularly drug-related offenses.

It has never been in the best interest of the state to lock away so many nonviolent criminals.

Drug-use offenses should be treated first as a disease. We've long been in favor of giving first-time drug-use offenders a one-time shot at rehab. To be clear, we do not share the same benevolent attitude toward pushers.

Prison should be about two things: Protecting citizens from violent criminals and rehabilitating offenders into citizens who survive on the outside without committing crimes.

Violent criminals need to pay their debt to society by spending a good portion of their sentence behind bars.

The state shouldn't stuff prisons with nonviolent, first-time offenders. Stockpiling those individuals in with violent inmates only lessens the chance at rehabilitation.

This is not to say all nonviolent criminals should receive commutation.

But making them eligible to apply after three years instead of 20 is the right way to go.

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