Tahlequah Daily Press

July 29, 2013

Thousands to be caught in insurance gap

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Tonya Sappington worked at a variety of jobs before starting college in 2010.

Sappington, 43, relies solely on financial aid to attend school, and worries that should she become ill, she would have no way to pay her medical bills.

She is one of about 9,000 Oklahomans who will fall into the “insurance crater” at the end of the year, when the federal government ceases to fund its portion of Insure Oklahoma.

“When I was at Northeastern State University, I could go to the school nurse for things and yes, NSU pays for lab tests at the hospital,” said Sappington. “And yes, I have been to the [NeoHealth] clinic a couple times when I felt like I was at death’s door. But mostly I just suck it up. [I take] over-the-counter meds and stay sick forever.”

Sappington recently transferred to a different university, where she’s charged $60 or more to see a doctor.

“If something major happened to me, I’d be another of those people getting sued for medical bills by the hospital, because I have zero income,” said Sappington.

“Obamacare, although not perfect, is supposed to expand the SoonerCare program to cover people like me. A college student with no income. A middle-aged woman with bladder problems. We are losing [Insure Oklahoma] because [Gov. Mary Fallin] won’t sign up for Obamacare.”

Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, said the Oklahoma Legislature has no plan in place to deal with the issue of the many Oklahomans who will lose their insurance at the end of the year.

“Current Republican leadership refuses to take up any measure to help all of the Oklahomans who will lose their insurance coverage,” said Brown.

“In January 2014, the federal government will stop participating financially in the Insure Oklahoma program because it does not comply with certain regulations in the federal law, the Affordable Care Act.”

According to Brown, during the past legislative session, Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, and Sen. Brian Crane, R-Tulsa, introduced a bill offering an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, which did not get a hearing.

“State leaders, instead, decided to wait for the report from the Leavitt Partners, who were hired at a cost of about $248,000 to study the issue,” said Brown.

Cox believes it’s the state’s duty to find a way to keep Oklahomans from being uninsured.

“Legislators work for the people of Oklahoma,” said Cox. “The citizens mandated our state to offer health care access to low-income, working Oklahomans back in 2004. Not only did they support the program, but they also supported increasing tobacco taxes to pay for it. We need to obey the will of the people and develop a state plan to provide for health care access after we lose Insure Oklahoma.”


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