Legislation to help offset the cost of health care received committee approval today.

House Bill 2179, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, would grant Oklahomans an income tax deduction equal to the amount paid by an individual for health insurance coverage. The credit, if approved, would be available starting in 2010.

“The cost of insurance is so high that many people – even middle-class workers – believe they cannot afford it,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “This bill will help offset that expense and hopefully reduce the number of uninsured Oklahomans.”

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average cost of insurance for Oklahomans is $3,354 annually for family health coverage and $721 for single coverage.

An estimated 1.18 million Oklahoma families and individuals would be able to deduct about $2.23 billion in health insurance premiums if House Bill 2179 becomes law.

As a result Oklahomans would save an estimated $85.9 million in taxes that would be freed to pay for insurance coverage or other vital needs if the bill becomes law.

The measure would not impact this year’s state budget.

Nelson said the bill could actually save the state money in other areas.

“The number of uninsured Oklahomans results in a lot of cost-shifting and new expense for state government, both directly and indirectly, not to mention driving up the cost of insurance for the average citizen,” Nelson said. “For example, we recently passed a bill to give $5 million to keep a hospital afloat in Tulsa because of the uninsured problem. That appropriation wouldn’t be necessary if we had more people with insurance coverage.”

House Bill 2179 has passed out of the House Revenue and Taxation Subcommittee. It now proceeds to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.