No doubt, lawmaking is hard. Multiple mixed messages coming from a variety of directions and generally from people who seem trustworthy make it difficult to separate wheat from chaff. But then, there isn’t one person in any legislature in the land who didn’t actively seek the legislative seat they occupy. The job, ideally, is precisely to choose the wisest course of action when faced with a legislative measure. This task is not easy, but it is made much easier when one chooses to act under a set of principles rather than “shooting from the hip,” so to speak.
President Obama once said that he liked to get smart people, experts, with different points of view in a room, listen to all their arguments, and then make up his mind on the right course of action. This implies that his decisions were not based on basic, proven principles, but were based on some sort of divine discernment not possessed by any of the experts in the room who presumably had studied the issue for years. In reality, there is no reason for anyone, regardless of IQ, educational background, or narcissistic tendencies, to think that they alone have the ability to divine a best course of action out of instinct rather than out of principle.
What passed out of the House as SB 131 is a three-page bill that bears no resemblance to the Senate’s version of the bill. In its action, the House committed one of the worst sins of modern legislatures. It didn’t pass a law; it passed an aspirational direction and empowered a bureaucracy to come up with all the actual laws needed to carry out that direction. In other words, SB 131 delegates the legislature’s authority to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (HCA) to come up with a fully bureaucratically-managed HMO-style Medicaid administration system. The alternative that has been offered, but was rejected by the House, would have been to give specific directions to HCA to put such management up for bid by private enterprise. Ostensibly, this was rejected because companies with the most potential to bid were from out-of-state, although they obviously would have had to employ people within Oklahoma.
The main principle that was rejected with respect to SB 131 is that legislators, not bureaucrats, should legislate. Pragmatic economic principles were also rejected, including that private enterprise and market forces are generally more efficient than bureaucracy, and that autarky (complete self-sufficiency wrapped up in “keep the money in the state”) is a sure way to make oneself poor.
SB 548, rejected by the House, would have required health care providers, in non-emergency situations, to fully reveal the out-of-pocket costs of services to a patient before services were rendered. The penalty for not doing so was merely that providers could not ruin patients’ credit ratings. This was an effort to stop surprise medical billing in a situation where the vast majority of health care consumers, insured or not, have no idea how much they will be billed for procedures, and have no opportunity to shop around even when there’s time. Providers, especially hospitals, have turned this into a license to steal, charging demonstrably exorbitant fees for even minor services with the patient only finding out the charge long after the service was rendered. Most of the reason health care takes up 20 percent of U.S. GDP, a much higher share than in other nations, is its over-pricing, not how much it actually produces.
The principles rejected by the House mainly have to do with pragmatic economic principles, that markets work best to benefit everyone, and that government’s main job is to make sure markets work as well as possible. Markets work best when all parties are well-informed, especially about pricing, since prices that both buyers and sellers can act on are absolutely fundamental for it to be said that a market exists at all. Secret prices that buyers (consumers, patients) obviously cannot act on are a dead give-away that there is no true, working market in health care. The House could have been part of beginning to create one in Oklahoma, but bought the big, corporate, “non-profit” thieves’ arguments instead.
Also approved by the House, SB 608 expands Oklahoma’s Hollywood subsidies. It enriches an industry that generally doesn’t have the same values as this red state. What’s more, it interferes with the sort of market forces that, when allowed to work in other large nations on earth, have brought billions out of abject poverty within only a few decades. Markets work best for everyone when true costs and benefits, undistorted by government, are reflected in companies’ accounts. What’s more, no industry, no company, and no class should be elevated by government into a position of privilege. SB 608 plainly violates this last basic principle.
It’s strange that some who voted for SB 131 wanted to make sure money stayed in the state also voted for SB 608, which quite obviously sends money outside the state. What’s more, while only a minority of Republicans voted against SB 608, at least some did. One hundred percent of the Democrats voted in favor of that corporate giveaway, and voted against SB 548, protecting the richest, most privileged industry in our nation. This, despite the fact that Democrat rhetoric is constantly about tearing down privilege, including of the corporate variety, this last being part of their rhetoric for decades. Few members of the legislature stuck with any discernible principles in their votes on these three bills, but a handful did, and they are to be commended.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.