Bill would allow out-of-state carriers to sell health insurance in Oklahoma (The Oklahoman)

By Dale Denwalt

A bill allowing out-of-state insurance carriers to sell plans in Oklahoma will be heard in committee next week.

The House author of Senate Bill 478 said his measure would give Oklahoma residents a chance to buy less expensive health insurance, but opponents have criticized the fact that those policies might not have the coverage mandates consumers need or expect.

State Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, originally scheduled his bill to be heard in committee last Tuesday, but he agreed to wait another week because he also introduced an amendment that other members of the House Insurance Committee hadn’t seen yet.

If it advanced into law, the bill would let the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner enter into an agreement with other states that allow cross-border insurance sales. The goal, Moore said, is to lure carriers in larger, healthier states.

“We’re hoping to compact with bigger states because we need bigger pools for our people to fall into,” said Moore. “We’re not as healthy a state.”

While policies in Oklahoma may only contain a pool of customers in Oklahoma, crossing state lines would conceivably add more people in a healthier part of the country to that group. Doing so would let the insurance company offer less expensive plans here.

There has been pushback, however, because Moore’s bill doesn’t require insurers to offer the same coverage mandates. Oklahoma law requires policies to cover more than two dozen medical conditions and treatments, including autism, mammograms, prostate exams, immunizations and birth defects.

Other states might have fewer mandates, or more.

Oklahoma began requiring insurance policies to cover autism just last year.

“I don’t know of a whole lot of individuals who really want to return to the days when your insurance may or may not actually have covered things that you thought it covered or hoped it would cover,” said Carly Putnam, policy analyst with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Putnam said most of the mandates found in Oklahoma law, which echo some of the federally mandated coverage requirements, are basic benefits that people expect to have.

“Just because you purchase coverage that doesn’t include cancer treatment because your family doesn’t have a history of cancer, insurance could then prove to be totally useless if, surprise, you develop an actual serious health condition like cancer,” Putnam said. “At that point, this health coverage might be slightly less expensive but it would also be useless in the case of a medical emergency.”

If Moore’s bill becomes law, the state insurance commissioner would be able to regulate the insurers’ conduct and determine the companies’ financial stability. It would apply to both individual and group health insurance plans.

Moore said there won’t be any companies marketing insurance plans without mandates.

“They’re getting the best of both because Oklahoma’s policy, that’s their fallback,” Moore said. “If they want the safety and security of the Oklahoma health plan, the Oklahoma health plan would still continue to have the mandates that it has.”

The out-of-state insurance policy document would be required to include a paragraph noting that it could offer different mandates from Oklahoma policies. The amendment that Moore wanted to introduce would have added another requirement that companies would have to notify the insurance commissioner how the policies deviate from Oklahoma law.

“Most people don’t even know what things are mandated if you look at a health policy. I mean, who looks at those things?” he said.

Another section of Moore’s amendment would require that out-of-state insurers comply with several existing Oklahoma laws preventing unfair claims and denial of coverage based on genetic information.

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