, Muskogee, OK

October 26, 2012

Hopefuls quizzed at Chamber forum

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Candidates who attended the chamber-sponsored forum Thursday were quizzed about jobs, water rights, gay marriage and their positions on a couple of ballot initiatives.

But the topic that came up most frequently was health care — how to reduce costs and the impact of controversial federal reforms. It also was the topic that drew the sharpest contrast among the candidates who attended.

The forum, sponsored by the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce, featured six candidates competing for two legislative posts and one congressional seat. Markwayne Mullin, who is competing as a Republican in a three-way contest in the 2nd Congressional District, declined his invitation to participate.

Two congressional candidates who did show up — Democrat Rob Wallace and Michael G. Fulks, who is running as an independent — tacked separate paths when asked whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act helps or hurts Americans.

Fulks offered anecdotal evidence of the “good things” that came out of federal health-care reforms. He said his daughter and a good friend of his were uninsurable as a result of pre-existing health problems.

Fulks also cited a reimbursement check his mother-in-law received from her insurer as a “good thing” that is a result of the law. He decried insurance practices that deny coverage to people who, through no fault of their own, have adverse health conditions.

“The bad side (of the law) is it guarantees insurance companies are going to make a profit — that is wrong, and I don’t believe in that,” Fulks said. “No company should be guaranteed to make a profit on something we are regulated to do.”

Wallace, instead of ticking off the law’s positives and negatives, criticized the bill as “a symptom of what is wrong in Washington.” Wallace lambasted special interests he said were allowed to write the bill.

“Instead of listening to consumers and figuring what the consumer base needed and taking that to business to bid on so we can get the best prices, we wrote a bill by talking to the lobbyists for big insurance companies, big medical companies and big pharmaceutical companies,” Wallace said. “Those voices are being heard while your voice is not. That is what needs to be fixed.”

When asked who benefits from federal reforms, both congressional candidates agreed the interests of insurers, medical providers and pharmaceutical companies probably trump those of the consumer. Wallace said he has nothing against making profits, but not at the expense of taxpayers or their health. Fulks compared health insurance to auto and homeowners policies.

“I am one of the million of drivers ... who has been paying for car insurance all these years and have never made a claim,” Fulks said. “We are required to have these insurances — guaranteed profit is not the American way, and we need to get away from that.”

Candidates competing for the Senate District 9 seat in the Oklahoma Legislature also differed when asked about federal health care reforms. Sen. Earl Garrison, who is seeking a third four-year term, cited several positive aspects but criticized the response by state Republican leaders. His GOP challenger, Barney S. Taylor, leveled mostly criticisms.

“It is the law of the land, the court has made that decision,” Garrison said, citing the elimination of pre-existing conditions, benefit caps and the fact children can stay on their parents’ policies longer as positive attributes. “It’s 2,700 pages long, and I’m sure there are a lot of things in there none of us like and probably don’t even know about, but there are some things in there that are good.”

Without identifying specifics, Taylor acknowledged “there are some things that are good,” but “there are a lot of things that are bad.”

“There are no caps on what the insurance companies can’t charge. So, yeah, they can’t drop you,” Taylor said. “But guess what? They can jack the prices up until you’re paying through the roof, so you can’t afford it anymore.”

Arthur Hulbert, who is competing for the House District 14 post as a Republican, identified the cost of implementing Medicaid with ObamaCare as the state’s “biggest challenge.” Democratic nominee Jerry Rains chastised Oklahoma’s top Republicans for wasting money trying to fight it.

“The Affordable Health Care Act is the law, it has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Rains said. “Oklahoma, on the other hand, has decided we are going to fight it in court and spend millions of dollars that could be used in our health care system today.”

Hulbert, who stumbled over the statistics he cited in support of his thesis, said the state will be on the hook for $250 million to $750 million when federal funds for Medicaid dry up.

“We are going to have a shortage of health care providers, which is big, big deal,” Hulbert said. “We will have issues about how we are going to pay for that.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or