Tulsa World, July 25, 2008: Insuring working poor set as goal

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by: MICK HINTON World Capitol Bureau
7/25/2008 12:00 AM

OKLAHOMA CITY Most of the 700,000 Oklahomans who don’t have health insurance are working adults with jobs, leaders in the industry said Thursday.

Often they are the young, ages 19 to 34, earning less than $30,000 a year, state Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland said.

“They are people making less than $14 an hour working either a couple of part-time jobs or a full-time job where the employer does not provide health insurance,” she said.

Holland addressed health industry representatives who gathered at the state Capitol to seek a way to improve Oklahoma’s low ranking in health coverage.

Oklahoma ranks 44th in the nation, with 18.6 percent of its residents uninsured, according to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.

“I consider affordable health insurance coverage to be perhaps the most important social and economic challenge facing our state and, indeed, the nation,” Holland said.

Medicaid provides free health care for low-income pregnant women and children and also for the elderly poor.

But the working poor, who are not eligible for that federal program, end up with no insurance, leaders say.

The group wants to come up with a basic health plan that could be delivered by the private sector with the help of public funds.

It would not be what is termed “universal health coverage,” where everyone is insured by the government, Holland said.

The state has private-public plan in operation, but it covers only about 12,600 Oklahomans who otherwise would not be insured.

The Legislature has earmarked some of the taxes derived from tobacco sales for a program called “Insure Oklahoma,” which aims to provide small businesses with the means to offer insurance to employees.

Nearly 3,000 small businesses are enrolled in the program, said Nico Gomez, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the program. Every month, about 1,000 more Oklahomans are enrolling, he said.

The bulk of the small businesses without insurance have fewer than 10 employees, Holland said.

Oklahoma also has a problem of many poor people who don’t have a doctor often going to the emergency room for routine care, officials said.

Rep. Doug Cox, the only physician serving in the state Legislature, said, “I see people in the emergency room all the time for minor ailments, but because they don’t have a primary-care physician, they have to come to the ER for care.”

Cox, R-Grove, said this is why the state needs to work with the private sector and come up with a basic health plan for all Oklahomans.

Mick Hinton (405) 528-2465

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