No coverage: Legislation this session fails to help lower state’s uninsured rate

By Dale Denwalt


OKLAHOMA CITY – Despite an estimated 17 percent of Oklahomans living without health insurance, there seems to be no viable proposal in the Legislature meant to draw down that number.

Those in the gap include people who don’t qualify to receive tax credits for private insurance or Medicaid through the state. In 2012, Gov. Mary Fallin declined to expand the program, saying it would burden the state with millions of dollars in expenses.

In a free clinic at NW 12th Street and N. Harvey Avenue in Oklahoma City, Pam Timmons saw 2,500 people come through in the past three months. That statistic highlights a continued lack of coverage despite the passage of federal health care laws mandating insurance.

“We found out yesterday we receive close to 250 to 300 calls a day for appointments,” said Timmons, executive director of Good Shepherd Ministries.

If the callers can’t get an appointment, they’ll call back the next day.

“Probably about 70 percent of those we see are the working poor who can’t afford insurance,” said Timmons, who also said the Affordable Care Act has hurt the middle class by making some deductibles higher.

At the Health Alliance for the Uninsured, an Oklahoma nonprofit that helps coordinate services for free clinics, Executive Director Pamela Cross-Cupit has kept her eye on policymaking at the state Capitol.

“I am not aware of any specific legislation at this time that would make a measurable decrease in the number of uninsured we have in Oklahoma,” she said.

There are efforts, though. Fallin has asked the federal government to permanently extend a waiver that allows the state’s Insure Oklahoma program to continue. Insure Oklahoma provides assistance to businesses so they can provide insurance for employees.

When the most recent one-year extension was approved last year, Fallin praised the program and its 19,000 members.

According to OKStateStat, a website that links the budget process with quantifiable goals, Oklahoma leaders want the number of insured to fall to 9.5 percent within four years.

The Insure Oklahoma program is a great program, said Policy Analyst Carly Putnam, who researches health care for the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Expanding it would be better, she said.

“We see expanding health coverage for low-income Oklahomans as something that would help a huge number of people get needed medical care for problems they may have,” Putnam said. “It would make families stronger because they wouldn’t have to worry about one bad bout of the flu or pneumonia or stepping off the curb wrecking your family’s financial future without access to that health coverage.”

Putnam said she hasn’t seen anything coming out of this year’s legislative session that could put more people on health insurance. There is one bill, however, that she said could have provided health coverage for tribal members who seek treatment outside of a federally funded hospital.

“(It) never made it out of committee because it looked too much like Medicaid expansion, even though it would have used entirely federal dollars,” Putnam said.

House Bill 1831 did not receive a vote in committee and has become dormant.

Its author, state Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, thought he would be more successful with the bill than he was last year, when it passed the House of Representatives unanimously.

“We figured it would be a slam-dunk this year, but apparently there’s competing views,” he said.

That bill, Scott said, could have created up to 75,000 newly insured Oklahomans just by reimbursing private hospitals with federal Medicaid dollars. And this year, he also doesn’t expect to vote on any other legislation meant to greatly reduce the number of uninsured.


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