Oklahoma leaders rejoice over another year for Insure Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY – A diverse range of state leaders rejoiced Friday afternoon, in wake of news that the Sooner State had secured at least another year of life for the broadly supported Insure Oklahoma program, which uses tobacco tax revenues to finance health insurance premium support. 

Gov. Mary Fallin and state health officials detailed elements of a federal waiver that sustains the program, at least until January 1, 2015, with some changes. While thousands of Oklahomans will retain coverage, thousands more will become eligible for federal subsidies to purchase private insurance.

“Basically, we bought ourselves some time,” Fallin said.

State Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said the extension was “great news for our state.” He said negotiators did “what’s right for Oklahoma’s businesses and low-income working families who wouldn’t be able to afford health insurance without this kind of program. Everyone deserves to have basic healthcare. We must all work together to make sure our citizens are healthy, and that starts by ensuring they have access to affordable healthcare.”

Shumate continued, saying he will support efforts “to assist those low-income Oklahomans who don’t qualify for Insure Oklahoma or other existing health insurance assistance programs. We can’t let any of our citizens fall through the cracks – their health is too important.”

Rep. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, vice chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, echoed Shumate’s hopeful response. Matthews said, “I’m so pleased by today’s agreement allowing Insure Oklahoma to continue for another year. This is going to make such a difference in the health of so many citizens, including those in the African American community and others throughout our district and the entire state of Oklahoma.”

Matthews credited Fallin, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Obama Administration for putting aside “partisan politics to protect the health of our citizens.”

On the Senate side of the Oklahoma Legislature, Democratic Leader Sean Burrage of Claremore declared he was “pleased and relieved that tens of thousands of hard-working Oklahomans won’t be forced to lose their health insurance at the end of this year.”

Burrage applauded state and federal officials “for working together to find a solution – however temporary — that will ensure Oklahoma small businesses and hard-working Oklahomans will continue to have access to health insurance. We are thankful that the thousands of individuals who will no longer have access to insurance through Insure Oklahoma will be able to access the federal Health Insurance Marketplace set up through the Affordable Care Act.”

Burrage concluded, “Insure Oklahoma is a successful, important program and there are still many uncertainties about its future. We must all be committed to working together to create a long-term solution which will keep this kind of fear and uncertainty from happening again next year.” 

“The one-year extension for Insure Oklahoma is good news for the thousands of Oklahomans utilizing this great state-run healthcare program for coverage,” said U.S.  Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City.  

“For the last several months, Oklahoma patients and their families have waited and doubted the future of their coverage, thanks to Obamacare — a misguided law that seeks to eventually phase out state options. I applaud Governor Fallin for her work with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to provide stable health options like Insure Oklahoma to many needy Oklahomans.”

Rep. Lankford concluded, “I am confident in the leadership of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, as it continues to maintain an access point to well-run, high-quality health coverage for thousands of Oklahomans.

“While I remain opposed to the President’s healthcare law, I am proud of the way our state and other states put patients first by continuing to protect all citizens from the harmful effects of ObamaCare. This extension is good but not good enough. I look forward to standing with Governor Fallin to continue to advocate for a permanent extension and the flexibility to protect Oklahomans receiving coverage.” 

Lankford’s office provided this sketch of the practical bureaucratic effect of the one-year extension: “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will grant a one-year extension of Oklahoma’s 1115 waiver to allow IO to continue functioning, albeit with some changes. For example, employer requirements within IO will not change.

“Employers will continue to contribute to the program at current levels, and employees should see no changes in their plans or costs for the coming year. However, income eligibility for individuals will go from 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) down to 100% with those patients who do not meet the new income standard forced to utilize the federal exchange created by Obamacare.”

Reaction across the range of opinion in Oklahoma has been largely upbeat and supportive since Fallin’s late morning announcement.

However, ready with the rare discouraging word was state Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins. He contended Fallin “flip-flopped” on her health care agenda in asking for the waiver. 

In a statement to CapitolBeatOK, Collins said, “Oklahoma Democrats are still advocating for a permanent fix to the huge gap in health care affordability. We are relieved that Governor Fallin has asked President Obama for help, but if she had accepted the $54 million in federal dollars provided by the Affordable Care Act, for our state’s health insurance exchange, then she would not have had to deal with this emergency at the 11th hour.”

You may contact McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com