All Oklahomans will be able to hold their HMOs legally responsible for health care decisions under patients' rights legislation approved by the Oklahoma State Senate Wednesday.
SB 1206 by Senator Brad Henry would allow members to sue their HMO if it improperly denied them necessary medical treatment ordered by their treating physician or made other health care decisions that were found to be detrimental to them. The measure easily passed the Senate 41-4 with bipartisan support.
"This isn't about Republicans or Democrats. It's about quality medical treatment and the basic rights Oklahomans deserve when it comes to health care. In our society, if someone or something causes you harm, you have a right to seek compensation. HMOs should not receive some kind of special treatment that puts them a rung above the average Oklahoman," said Senator Henry.
The Shawnee legislator pointed out that public employees, including state legislators, already have the right to sue their HMOs. His legislation would simply extend that right to Oklahomans in the private sector.
"This is really an issue of equal treatment. People in the private sector should have the same basic health care rights as legislators and public employees. HMOs shouldn't be able to treat one Oklahoman differently from another simply because one works for the government and another works for a private employer," said Senator Henry.
SB 1206 is patterned after similar laws passed in other states. For example, the Texas Legislature and Governor George Bush, Jr. recently approved legislation allowing Lone Star State residents to hold HMOs legally responsible for their decisions.
"Other states have recognized that there should be a level playing field for HMOs and their members. We're just trying to follow their lead and do the right thing for Oklahomans," said Senator Henry.
In attempting to sidetrack the legislation, HMOs have argued that the legislation would impose a liability on employers through increased insurance premiums. However, in states with similar laws, no premium increases have been linked to the legislation.
"There's no truth to all the doom and gloom predictions being circulated by the HMOs. They don't have any hard evidence to back up their claims so they're trying to scare people," said Senator Henry.
"There haven't been any problems in Texas or the other states that have approved similar legislation. Governor Bush even brags about it. I doubt he'd be promoting it if it were bad for business in any way."
"Additionally, we haven't seen any problems in the public sector where public employees have had the right to hold their HMOs accountable for many years."
SB 1206 now goes to the Oklahoma State House for consideration.