Few Sign up for Okla.’s Small Business Insurance Program

April 25, 2007

Only 2,000 workers have signed up for a state program that helps small companies provide health insurance to their employees.

Nearly $70 million sits in a special fund for the program, but employers say the plan is so restrictive that few of their workers are eligible to participate.

Problems with the program for companies with 50 or fewer employees were brought up as state Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland and state officials kicked off “Cover the Uninsured Week.”

There are more than 700,000 Oklahomans who have no health insurance, putting Oklahoma near the top of states in percentage of uninsured. About 146,000 children have no insurance.

The program calls for employers with 50 or fewer workers to pay about 25 percent of the cost of an insurance premium, while the worker will pay about 15 percent, with the state and federal government picking up the rest.

Scott Pilgrim, who owns three long-term care facilities at Medford, Bixby and Beggs, said if income levels for employees were expanded a couple of dollars per hour, it would help greatly.

Currently, the program covers people who earn up to $18,888, or what is considered 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Gov. Brad Henry and others have proposed expanding the program to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $20,400, for employees to qualify.

Three bills by northeastern Oklahoma lawmakers calling for changes in the program have failed so far this legislative session. The lawmakers were Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita.

Hoskin said it should not cost Oklahoma to expand coverage to the 200 percent level because so much money is accruing in the small business insurance account administrated by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

About two years ago, Oklahoma was awarded a special federal waiver to set up the program with the state’s share to be paid through increased tobacco taxes.

Henry is pushing to raise the income cap. He said he remains hopeful that legislative leaders will support increasing the cap this session.

Information from: Tulsa World, www.tulsaworld.com

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