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Oklahoma bill allowing providers to opt out of care if it goes against their beliefs fails committee

Hush Naidoo Jade Photography

A bill that would allow health care workers to withhold services that go against their beliefs failed in the Oklahoma Senate Health and Human Services Committee Thursday.

House Bill 3214, by Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore) and David Bullard (R-Durant), would have extended this right to health care institutions, insurance companies and health care providers. They could refuse to participate or pay for services that go against their ethical, moral or religious beliefs.

“We also allow the hospitals to have a list ahead of time, where a medical provider, or a person or an entity can say ‘I object to this’” Bullard said.

The bill doesn’t apply to emergency services because of federal requirements under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which ensures access to emergency care regardless of a person’s ability to pay. Bullard said the bill addresses “elective procedures.”

In HB 3214, those services would have included things like exams, testing, dispensing or administering drugs, psychological therapy or counseling, research, surgeries and procedures. The providers, health care institutions and insurance companies who refuse to provide such services would be protected under HB 3214 from being held liable, discriminated against and disciplined.

Sen. Brenda Stanley (R-Midwest City) said she was concerned about patients saying they need a procedure and a physician denying care.

“I've heard somebody say doctors are not vending machines. You don't just put your money in it gives you whatever you want,” Bullard replied. “Doctors still have that authority to look at these different situations.”

Medical conscience laws exist in other states like Montana, Florida, South Carolina, Ohio and Arkansas. Bullard said states like these haven’t reported any issues related to their similar laws, and he believes more professionals would come to Oklahoma because they know their beliefs are protected.

Other lawmakers said they're concerned the bill doesn’t provide enough patient protections and would result in lawsuits.

Sen. George Young (D-Oklahoma City) said he worries the bill would allow providers to racially discriminate against their patients.

“Suppose a caregiver has some embedded ideas about people based on race, and now this kind of protects them from being able to discriminate racially against them because there's nothing in the bill that would stop them,” Young said. “… How would you determine that person made a decision based on (a procedure)?”

Bullard said he firmly disagreed with Young and said this bill is about procedures, not people. He said providers who racially discriminate would be subject to civil rights violations. Young said he still thinks it would be difficult to determine a person's motives in light of this bill.

“If somebody refused to do something (based on race), now that's part of that investigation against somebody that the medical board would have to go and investigate and find out if that's indeed the fact,” Bullard replied.

The bill narrowly failed with a vote of 6-6.

Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.