Bill Would Expand Okla. Small Business Insurance Plan

May 21, 2007

A bill vastly expanding the number of small businesses that qualify for a health insurance subsidy program is nearing floor action in the Oklahoma Legislature, a key lawmaker said recently.

Gov. Brad Henry’s “Insure Oklahoma” program currently provides health insurance subsidies to help businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

Legislation expected to be heard by a House committee on May 21 would expand eligible employers to those with as many as 250 workers.

Under the bill, employees could make up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line and qualify.

Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the Insure Oklahoma program is not an entitlement, requiring contributions from both employees and employers.

Employees are responsible for paying deductibles on their health insurance and for copays on doctor visits.

“We feel it is important that the individual has some ownership and some skin in the game when it comes to the cost,” Steele said.

Money to pay for the program would come from $72.5 million sitting unused in a fund created by tobacco taxes.

Steele said expanding the program would be a major benefit to nursing homes and small hospitals that cannot afford to provide health insurance for their employees.

If the funds are not spent, Steele said they will automatically go into a program to expand the Medicaid program to parents. Children are now principally covered by the program.

Lawmakers also are considering Henry’s “All Kids Program, which would increase the number of children who qualify for Medicaid.

“I support both initiatives,” Steele said. “I feel like the Insure Oklahoma program is in pretty good shape (for legislative approval). I think the jury is still out on the All Kids issue.”

Paul Sund, spokesman for Henry, said the Democratic governor feels strongly that both proposals should be enacted to reduce the number of Oklahomans who do not have health insurance, estimated at between 650,000 and 700,000.

“Insure Oklahoma is a proven, pro-business, pro-family initiative and the All Kids program is equally important because it helps children who need help the most,” Sund said. “Those are two things that the governor is going to be pushing hard for in the final days.”

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