MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 28, 2013

Session over, health questions remain

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin gave lawmakers an ‘A’ grade for approving much of her agenda during the recently concluded legislative session, but the question of how the state plans to address the more than 630,000 Oklahomans without health insurance remains unresolved.

Fallin, a Republican, rejected the opportunity under the federal health care law to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 200,000 people without health insurance, saying last November that doing so would prove too costly to the state and the country.

But this group that makes up about 17 percent of the state’s population is placing a burden on the state’s health care system because they often seek expensive medical care at hospital emergency rooms and ultimately drive up the cost of health care.

A pair of Republican lawmakers crafted a last-minute plan to modify and expand the state’s Insure Oklahoma program by using state and federal money, combined with modest co-pays, to provide health insurance to low-income, working Oklahomans, but that proposal never got off the ground in the House.

Then Fallin offered a separate proposal in the waning days of session to use tobacco tax revenue to help provide coverage to the 9,000 Insure Oklahoma participants who will lose coverage when the program expires Dec. 31 but won’t qualify for insurance subsidies offered through the federal health care law. That proposal passed the Senate, but was never taken up in the House, where House Speaker T.W. Shannon said he doesn’t believe providing health insurance “is a proper or efficient function of government.”

Sen. Brian Crain, who worked on the last-minute legislative proposal to modify the Insure Oklahoma program, said he believes the Legislature could ultimately support a plan to expand health insurance if it involved some form of co-pays and targeted working Oklahomans.

“I think that our Legislature would approve a premium assistance program along the lines of Insure Oklahoma, as long as they know these are people who are working to try and better themselves and not just trying to live off the state,” said Crain, R-Tulsa.

Fallin and lawmakers are awaiting the findings of Utah-based health consultant Leavitt Partners, due at the end of June, on how the state can expand coverage to its uninsured population.

During a briefing with reporters on the final day of the legislative session on Friday, Fallin did not rule out the possibility of calling lawmakers back for a special session to address the issue.

“I need to have that discussion with my staff, certainly our counsel, to see what our other options are,” Fallin said. “We will be regrouping and seeing what other options we have, and certainly a special session could be an option.”

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