The Edmond Sun

Local News

July 3, 2013

Fallin looking for legal health care plan

EDMOND — Gov. Mary Fallin said to look for her office to begin discussing what state government can and cannot do in trying to develop an Oklahoma health care plan. This Oklahoma plan will be developed to comply with federal laws that cannot be avoided, she said recently before members of the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fallin said this Oklahoma initiative will be designed “to help people get insurance and have something that’s affordable, practical for our state.”

Her office continues to look for ways to salvage Insure Oklahoma from being terminated Dec. 31.

The Affordable Care Act would allow 500,000 uninsured Oklahomans to become eligible for health insurance. Seven percent of children and 20 percent of all Oklahoma adults from 19 to 64 years of age are currently without health insurance, according to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

Insure Oklahoma is scheduled to end Dec. 31 because it does not meet all requirements of the Affordable Care Act, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Insure Oklahoma currently has an enrollment cap of 35,000, which is determined by the state’s budget.

President Barack Obama asked Fallin to let him know of the state’s needs when he visited Moore in May after central Oklahoma was ravaged by tornadoes.

“He said so profusely many times, ‘Anything we can do for you, Mary, in Oklahoma,’” Fallin said. “I said, ‘I do have something I want you to do. First of all I want you to free Michael Behenna from prison. And secondly, I want you to extend my Insure Oklahoma waiver.’”

Fallin made a formal request with the White House three weeks ago to extend the Insure Oklahoma waiver. So far the waiver has not been denied, Fallin said. State Medicaid Director Dr. Garth Splinter, is in conversation with the U.S. Department of Human Services.

A bipartisan effort to create Insure Oklahoma brought voters to pass a ballot initiative in 2004. State tax revenues are dedicated to Insure Oklahoma. The program depends on federal Medicaid money and state tobacco tax revenue. Additionally, employer and employee contributions to the program help fund private insurance plans for individuals earning up to 200 percent of poverty level.

The program covers non-disabled working adults and their spouses, disabled working adults, employees of not-for-profit businesses with fewer than 500 employees, foster parents, and full-time college students. The program also offers coverage for dependent children of Insure Oklahoma members.

State Democratic leader Sean Burrage of Claremore has called for the state to accept federal funding and expand Medicaid using the tax dollars Oklahomans already have sent to Washington. In 2011, Fallin rejected $54 million of federal funding for the state to create a health care exchange.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority contracted Leavitt Partners in February to evaluate the state’s Medicaid program.

OHCA authorized a $500,000 contract for the Leavitt report. However, the company came in under budget so the final cost was about $248,000, said Aaron Cooper, the governor’s press secretary.

Leavitt released the report last week with recommendations on how the state can best access quality health care.

The use of state funds is listed in the report as a state option to utilizing federal funding that is available to provide premium assistance to some poor Oklahomans.

“Buried in the report is the fact that, according to Jackson-Hewitt, even if 75 percent of those people can then afford to buy coverage through the healthcare exchange, the potential employer tax penalty in Oklahoma could range from $35 million to $52.6 million annually,” Burrage said. “So, even the best idea that doesn’t take federal dollars to expand Medicaid will result in a de facto $35-$52.6 million tax on Oklahoma small businesses,” Burrage said.

Fallin told the chamber that she looks forward to reviewing Leavitt’s recommendations to determine how the state can best move forward.

“Her goal continues to be improving access to high quality, affordable care for all Oklahomans,” Cooper said. “However, like most Oklahomans, she does not believe that the Medicaid expansion outlined in Obamacare is an acceptable way of achieving these results.”

To view a report issued by Leavitt Partners to Gov. Mary Fallin’s office, go to http://www.okhca.org/research.aspx?id=14943.

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