Gov. Asks Feds To Support Insure Oklahoma Program

By Wayne Greene, Tulsa World, Okla.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 14--OKLAHOMA CITY -- Gov. Mary Fallin has asked White House officials to reconsider a federal decision to pull out of the state's Insure Oklahoma program, which subsidizes private health insurance for 30,000 working poor Oklahomans.

Fallin said she called David Agnew, head of intergovernmental affairs for the White House, on Wednesday to ask that the Insure Oklahoma decision be reconsidered.

When asked if she was optimistic about the chances of a reversal of the federal decision, Fallin said, "Well, I have got to ask."

In May, federal officials told the state that it would not participate in the Insure Oklahoma program after this year unless it was altered significantly to make it conform with the Affordable Care Act -- also known as "Obamacare."

"I wanted to once again tell them we thought it was important, and we gave them all the reasons why and how it had been successful for our state," Fallin said.

"I also told him that I had actually tried to work with the Legislature the last week of session to get a bill passed to help with the 9,000 that are in the Insure Oklahoma program that will be left without coverage if we should lose the Insure Oklahoma program, and I was explaining how there would be people left without any insurance that wouldn't be eligible for federal program," she said.

Fallin said Agnew told her that the administration would revisit the issue.

Insure Oklahoma was created in 2005 after state voters approved an increase in tobacco taxes to fund health-care improvements.

The program uses about $50 million a year in state tobacco tax revenue, federal Medicaid money and employer contributions to subsidize private health insurance for workers earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The Medicaid money is available because of a special waiver from federal officials.

The number of people participating in the program is capped to limit the state's potential costs, although that cap has never been met.

In May, federal officials notified the state that they weren't willing to continue the waiver unless the cap was removed and other changes were made to make the program fit within the boundaries of the Affordable Care Act.

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About 30,000 working poor Oklahomans and their families get health care through Insure Oklahoma.

About 21,000 of them will be able to get federal subsidies through a health insurance exchange when the Insure Oklahoma program ends, but the 9,000 poorest clients will not be eligible for that program.

The 9,000 clients -- those earning less than the federal poverty level -- would have been eligible for Medicaid coverage, if Fallin had accepted federal funding for state Medicaid expansion, but the governor rejected that option in November, saying the expansion came with a potentially enormous cost to the state.

In the final days of the legislative session, Fallin attempted to save coverage for the 9,000 Insure Oklahoma clients on the verge of losing their subsidies with an all-state-funded effort, but Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon refused to consider the option.

Fallin has said she might call the Legislature into special session to consider the issue, but sources say she will only do so if there is a hope of a compromise with legislative leaders.

When asked Thursday if she was still considering a special session, Fallin brought up the phone call with Agnew.

"When the president was here touring our tornado damage, he said, 'Anything you guys need in Oklahoma, let us know,' " Fallin said. "And so I called the White House yesterday and had a discussion with David Agnew to ask them to reconsider Insure Oklahoma and our 1115 waiver for that program.

"I told him it was a successful program we have had in Oklahoma since 2005, that was established under Gov. (Brad) Henry, and that the people of Oklahoma had also voted on using our tobacco settlement money to help provide a matching fund for individuals and small businesses that were uninsured and unable to afford health insurance," Fallin said.

Some 4,700 businesses participate in the program, she said.

President Barack Obama promised governors flexibility in dealing with health care financing, she said.

Fallin said she told Agnew that the Insure Oklahoma program was comparable to a private insurance financing program approved for Medicaid funding in Arkansas earlier this year.

"We are trying to find an Oklahoma solution to help those that are uninsured and can't afford insurance," Fallin said.

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When federal officials notified the state of their decision to pull out of the Insure Oklahoma program, they gave state officials a July 1 deadline for working out a schedule to wind down the program.

Mullin blasts Affordable Care Act in speech

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin took to the House floor Thursday to denounce the Affordable Care Act as a job-killing brake on the American economy.

In a one-minute speech, the 2nd District Republican said the federal health-care law was forcing small employers such as himself to obey mandates that inhibit their ability to grow and thrive.

"When you attack a small business, you attack the backbone of our economy," Mullin said.

The federal law requires employers to offer qualifying health-care coverage to workers or face stiff tax penalties, but companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the mandate.

Although the tax penalties don't go into effect until Jan. 1, Mullin linked them to the sluggish growth of the U.S. economy.

"Where is the recovery America was promised?" he asked. "It is time we put America back in business."

- Wayne Greene, World Senior Writer

Wayne Greene 918-581-8308

[email protected]


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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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