Senate plan could rescue Insure Oklahoma program for working poor

OKLAHOMA CITY – Tobacco tax revenue could be used to save the acclaimed “Insure Oklahoma” program that faces elimination under strictures of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

State Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, detailed the legislation in a Friday press release sent to CapitolBeatOK. The practical effect of the measure would be to separate the state program from the vagaries of federal Medicaid, making it a 100 percent state-funded effort. 

Sen. David expects the measure to advance from a Senate Conference Committee today (Monday, May 20). House conferees must also consider the measure before the full Senate and House can consider the proposal, she said. 

David, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, says the required language is in Senate Bill 254 and Senate Bill 700. The measure would pull $50 million from existing tobacco taxes to avoid the shutdown of the program, which serves approximately 30,000 Oklahomans, at year’s end.

“Insure Oklahoma has given 30,000 low-income Oklahomans insurance coverage, but the federal government said it cannot continue to receive federal dollars unless we change the program,” said Sen. David. “Making it completely funded with state tobacco tax dollars means it will continue to be an Oklahoma health care solution with no strings attached, protecting us from additional federal mandates and rising costs that we simply cannot afford.”

Gov. Mary Fallin quickly endorsed the plan Friday afternoon (May 17).

Sen. David said, “We’ve worked closely with Governor Fallin on this legislation and I believe we’ll see it signed out by our Senate conferees on Monday morning.  Nine thousand hard working Oklahomans stand to lose their access to health care if we fail to get this legislation to her desk.  But with the support of our colleagues in the House, we can make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Early this month, the Obama Administration denied a request from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to allow the state to continue to use Medicaid revenues for Insure Oklahoma. The state-run program for the working poor was developed a decade ago with bipartisan support. It provides premium support to access private sector insurance through a state-run program.  

Gov. Fallin assailed the decision, conveyed in a letter from Cindy Mann of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Referencing the Affordable Care Act, Mann wrote, “The new law will mean that an extension of the Insure Oklahoma program without any changes is not possible.” In her letter, Mann contended the federal government is “committed to working with you on approaches that work for Oklahoma.” However, she continued, the SoonerCare Section 1115 demonstration includes enrollment caps, which “will not be approved.”

Fallin responded to Mann’s letter, saying, “The president promised the American people, ‘if you like your  health insurance, you can keep it.’ He has not kept his word. Thirty thousand Oklahomans participating in Insure Oklahoma and many more Americans across the country – are being forced off their health insurance plans.

The president also promised the nation’s governors his administration would grant states the flexibility to pursue state-based solutions rather than one-size-fits-all policies. Again, that has proven to be untrue, as Oklahoma and other states are now finding their programs and waivers under assault by the Obama Administration.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.