In late January, just before session began, members of the Senate Democratic caucus announced their intentions to elevate the debate over health care to a new level this legislative session. With several of their health care measures winning approval in the Senate and awaiting action by the House of Representatives, they have made good on that promise, and seem more determined than ever to keep the fight alive.
“We’ve started a conversation about the importance of a healthy Oklahoma and how it makes our entire state a better place to live, work and raise a family,” Senator Charlie Laster, Democratic Floor Leader said. “We intend to keep the conversation going, and hopefully bring forth a responsible public policy that tackles the health care crisis head on.”
Senate Democrats filed several legislative measures that would help Oklahomans have greater access to affordable health care. Included among those measures:
A bill to require insurance companies to cover the treatment and therapy of children with autism spectrum disorders, known as Nick’s Law. That bill is named for 10-year old Nick Rhode who lives with autism.
A bill that would require insurance companies to cover the treatment of Oklahomans who choose to participate in clinical trials to battle cancer and other chronic diseases. That bill is known simply as “Steffanie’s Law” after a Noble teenager who recently passed away after a long battle with brain cancer;
And a bill that would require insurance companies to cover the treatment that medical professionals deem medically necessary, known as the “Oklahoma Patient’s Bill of Rights.”
Laster (D-Shawnee) said Senate Democrats aren’t simply talking about the health care debate at the state Capitol, they are taking steps in their own lives to set examples for other Oklahomans to display the importance of leading a healthy life.
“You can’t very well talk about the importance of affordable health care, and helping Oklahomans lead healthier lives without implementing those conversations into your everyday life,” Laster said. “Mayor Cornett has done an excellent job leading the way in Oklahoma City to help citizens in their personal health journey and the Senate Democrats are taking personal steps to lead healthier lives too.”
Laster pointed to the formation of a relay team, consisting of three Senators and two staffers, who will run in the upcoming Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon slated for April 27th to help other Oklahomans celebrate life, and raise awareness about the health care debate to help all Oklahomans lead happier, healthier lives. He also explained about the success one democratic staffer has had in shedding close to 100 pounds in the past 10 months, and the inspiration she has been to members of the democratic caucus to make small changes to lead healthier lives.
“Amber England, our Communications Director, has worked hard on her weight loss goals, and in the past few months she came to the realization her journey was more than simple numbers on a scale, but could be used to help us keep this important conversation about health care going.” Laster said. “She organized the relay team, participated in early morning training runs, conducted weekly breakfasts with members of the Senate, is helping Senate Democrats to participate in a clothing drive and is attempting to make us incorporate healthier food choices into our weekly caucus lunches.”
Laster explained she won an online essay contest through her participation in a weight loss challenge on the website JillianMichaels.com and through that, she traveled to Los Angeles, California to work out with trainer and life coach, Jillian Michaels, of NBC’s hit reality weight loss show “The Biggest Loser.”
“Over the past several months and certainly while I was in LA, I realized this weight loss journey could be about so much more than me,” England said. “All Oklahomans deserve the opportunity to live healthy lives like the one I am now living, and that includes having access to affordable health care, and that is how this relay team idea all started.”
Senator Sean Burrage, whose fight for affordable health care is a personal one said he is thrilled to be involved in the Marathon that is designed to celebrate life, and he believes there is no better way to celebrate life than to help all Oklahomans lead healthier lives through access to affordable health care.
“Because the entire purpose of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is to celebrate life, we wanted this relay team to lend a voice to the thousands of Oklahoma who go without health care,” Burrage said. “Their lives matters. And they can’t lead healthy lives, without access to affordable health care.”
Also included in the relay team is State Senator Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau), a member who represents one of the poorest parts of Oklahoma, and coincidentally, a part of the state that has a great number of citizens who live without health care coverage.
“Every day in my district someone dies because they couldn’t get health insurance,” Corn said. “I run this marathon to celebrate their life and give those people a voice.”
Senator Tom Ivester, a Democrat from Sayre and a Veteran of the War in Afghanistan, will also participate in the Marathon Relay. Ivester has an extensive background in health and fitness, serving as a paratrooper during his time in combat.
“Two things in life sustained me while I was fighting for my country: My faith in Jesus and my family,” Ivester said. “Now that I serve as the voice of thousands of Oklahomans who go without health care, I believe it is my moral obligation to give Oklahomans faith to know we are doing our part to bring them a health care system that works, allows them to lead healthy happy lives.”
All of the Senators concluded by saying, “Giving Oklahomans the tools they need to lead healthier lives is something we can work together to accomplish,” they said. ‘We invite everyone to join us on Sunday as we celebrate life and lend a voice to those Oklahomans who go without health care so we can make Oklahoma a better place to live, work and raise a family.”