Oklahoma ScissorTales: The changing health care market

OKLAHOMANS were no doubt relieved this week when Integris Health hospital network and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma announced that an agreement had been reached to keep the hospital as part of the insurer’s provider network. Without the agreement, many Oklahomans with Blue Cross policies would soon have had to pay higher out-of-network charges if treated at Integris or they would have needed to obtain treatment elsewhere.

The dispute highlights the changing face of the health care market. Providers that could once charge higher rates via a wide range of methods are now being pressured to reduce those costs.

During the drawn-out negotiations, officials with Blue Cross and Integris both admitted one point of contention was the demand by Blue Cross that in-network doctors be required to treat BCBS patients. Blue Cross officials said patients who go to the emergency room of an in-network hospital can still get hit with a bill for an out-of-network doctor, which involves unanticipated higher out-of-pocket costs for those consumers.

Details weren’t immediately available when the agreement was announced mid-week. Time will tell who came out the winner in the contract negotiations.

But the stakes were high for both sides. Had Integris not stayed in Blue Cross’ network, there would have been financial consequences for the hospital as patients steered away from it. And for Blue Cross, the loss of Integris as an in-network provider could have made its policies less attractive to consumers. In the end, it appears mutually assured damage did not appeal to either party.

Pruitt in the cross hairs

The choice of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency left liberals and environmental groups up in arms, given Pruitt’s work as Oklahoma attorney general to fight edicts handed down by the EPA during the Obama administration. That opposition hasn’t waned. The agency’s inspector general, acting on “congressional requests and a hotline complaint,” plans to investigate Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded travels to Oklahoma. The complaining members of Congress are, no surprise, Democrats. Pruitt has defended his travel, and will get to do so again as part of this process. If it’s shown that some of his trips have been questionable, he’ll be made to deal with it. Meantime he’ll continue to deal with constant opposition and criticism from those who never wanted him in Washington in the first place.

Trump and business leaders

There’s valid reason to criticize some of President Trump’s actions. But for one group, it is Trump’s accessibility and willingness to listen to others that warrants condemnation. (We kid you not.) In a recent release and associated report, Public Citizen complains that in his first 216 days in office, Trump had “already met with triple the number of CEOs as President Barack Obama did during the entire eight years of his presidency …” Based on public records, the group found Trump has had at least 385 meetings with 317 executives representing more than 300 corporations. In contrast, Obama had 100 corporate executive meetings in eight years. Yet if Obama had bothered to meet with people with real-world economic expertise, perhaps his tenure would not be recalled for well-below-average economic growth and wage stagnation. Trump’s willingness to engage with the private sector is a plus, not a minus.

A trim, and some kindness

The Oklahoman‘s business reporter Jack Money wrote this week about an Oklahoma City couple who are merging ingenuity with kindness. Bruce Waight Sr. and his partner, Vanessa Morrison, operate a barber shop out of a retrofitted Airstream trailer. They call it En Root, and throughout the week they park the trailer at various locations across Oklahoma City and Edmond. Some of these are businesses that have partnered with En Root; Waight offers discounted haircuts to those owners and employees. The trailer also spends three days each week at three apartment complexes; those residents get discounts, too. Waight and Morrison also have begun a program they call “Cut it Forward,” which allows folks to donate to help someone less fortunate get a haircut. “I feel blessed,” Waight said. He and Morrison are blessing others through their work. More information about En Root is available at www.enrootokc.com.

Gone With the Wind … gone

Society has changed in the past 78 years. It seems The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee wants to protect its audiences from confronting that undeniable truth. The Orpheum has announced it won’t show “Gone With the Wind” in any future summer movie series, based on negative feedback from aggrieved moviegoers. The 1939 film focuses on life on a Southern plantation during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods and involves a sympathetic portrayal of the Confederacy. The movie, by the way, won eight Academy Awards and has been ranked No. 6 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest American films. In a statement, officials with The Orpheum declared that their organization’s “stated mission is to ‘entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves …’” Yet it seems it was a bridge too far to “enlighten” audiences to the fact that movies released generations ago don’t conform with modern sensibilities.

The right call

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, then-President George W. Bush refrained from making an in-person visit for several days, due in part to concern his presence would divert manpower from rescue efforts. In response, Bush was accused of indifference to the plight of victims. Now it’s 2017, and Hurricane Harvey has hammered Houston. President Trump quickly announced he would visit — for which he was quickly criticized. In a question to a congressman, MSNBC’s Katy Tur said “there’s real concern that his going there is going to have to divert, at least a little bit, some resources away from the rescue effort and toward him.” On “CBS This Morning,” co-host Gayle King asked if Trump’s visit “can be made without causing disruption in the wake of this hurricane.” Either way, a president will be criticized, so Trump’s decision to visit was the right call.

Stark contrast

We recently urged Republicans and Democrats alike to condemn all who engage in violent political “protests.” The executive director of the ACLU in Oklahoma objected, characterizing those we criticized on the political left as “people working actively to counter” neo-Nazis. Perhaps he should talk to R.C. Maxwell, a black man assaulted at a recent pro-Trump rally in California. In an interview, Maxwell described the incident (which was caught on tape), saying he was “quickly encircled by Antifa and these counter protesters, yelling racialized attacks.” Things quickly escalated until Maxwell “was attacked multiple times, sucker-punched, and obviously I was pepper sprayed, choked, and tackled.” At no point did Maxwell threaten or commit any act of violence, nor can he be called a white supremacist by any reasonable person. The political spin offered in defense of violent left-wing protesters is in stark conflict with the ugly reality.

Costly smokes

It’s mighty expensive to live in New York City — and about to get even more costly for those who smoke. Mayor Bill De Blasio signed a bill this week, approved by the city council, that sets the minimum price for a pack of cigarettes at $13 effective in June 2018. The current floor price is $10.50 per pack. De Blasio signed several other smoking-related pieces of legislation, including one that will outlaw the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies and one that, through attrition, will cut in half the number of retailers licensed to sell tobacco products. These are all part of an effort to drive down the city’s smoking rate, which has declined from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 14.3 percent in 2015. The price hike is also likely, of course, to drive up the number of bootleg cigarettes, which already do brisk business in the Big Apple.


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