OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Legislature's only physician expressed frustration Tuesday with delays in the authorization of federal funds for state-approved programs designed to reduce the number of Oklahomans without health insurance.
Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency medicine physician at Integris Grove General Hospital, said the delays are preventing implementation and expansion of health insurance premium assistance programs adopted by state lawmakers to reduce the estimated 650,000 uninsured Oklahomans.
“We haven't really seen the full affects of what we've done,” Cox said.
Cox, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, made the comments following a meeting of the state Health Care Reform Task Force where health care policy analysts outlined how other states have used premium assistance programs, public-private partnerships and private market strategies to make health insurance more affordable and reduce the number of uninsured.
“This is an issue that virtually every state in the nation is dealing with,” said Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, co-chairman of the task force.
In 2004, state lawmakers passed the Insure Oklahoma program, designed to help small businesses provide health care coverage for their low- and middle-income employees.
It authorized the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to develop a program for adults, 19 to 64 years of age, who did not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $37,000 annually.
Under the program, the state pays 60 percent of insurance costs, the employer pays 25 percent and the employee pays 15 percent. The state's portion of the cost is funded by tobacco tax revenue and federal Medicaid matching dollars.
Last year, lawmakers voted to expand the program to permit small business workers to qualify if they make up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, about $60,000. Currently, about 13,500 people participate in the Insure Oklahoma program but it can afford up to 40,000, Cox said.
Lawmakers also approved the All Kids Act, which allows families making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for government assistance in obtaining health care. Before, families had to make under 185 percent of the federal poverty line before their children qualified for benefits.
“We're looking at reducing the uninsured,” Steele said.
But Cox said the state has been forced to delay expanding the programs while it awaits authorization by federal officials of additional Medicaid funds for the programs.