Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 30, 2013

Working poor falling through cracks

TAHLEQUAH — When tax credits for health insurance take effect in January, many Oklahomans will find themselves ineligible to participate – yet also unable to participate in SoonerCare, the state’s version of  Medicaid.

According to a report by Oklahoma Watch, of the 424,173 Oklahoma workers who have no insurance, 109,227 are considered the “working poor” – meaning they earn incomes below the poverty level, which places them in an ever-growing coverage crater.

Beginning next year, the federal government will stop participating financially in the Insure Oklahoma program, because it doesn’t comply with certain regulations in the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, said the Oklahoma Legislature has no plan to deal with the many people who stand to 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 coverage,” said Brown. “As a small business owner myself, I know the value of the Insure Oklahoma program to the people of this state.”

Brown said Insure Oklahoma helps small businesses provide health insurance coverage for their employees.

The Employer Sponsored Insurance plan - ESI  - is available for people with household incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level (about $40,000 for a family of three). Individuals, or their parents, have to be employed by a small business with fewer than 50 employees. The program is jointly funded by 64 percent federal funds and 36 percent state funds.

“Currently, there are approximately 30,000 people in the Insure Oklahoma program,” said Brown.

“It is estimated 20,000 of them make above 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Under the Affordable Care Act, they will be eligible for tax credits to buy insurance on the health insurance exchange marketplace. But that leaves 10,000 people, currently covered by Insure Oklahoma, who make less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Absent a Medicaid expansion, or something similar, these people will fall into a void.”

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to delay certain portions of the Affordable Care Act, including one requiring businesses with 50 employees or more to cover full-time employees with health insurance.

Former Sen. Jim Wilson, who now sits on the board of directors of NeoHealth Inc., said most business owners in Oklahoma have fewer than 50 employees.

“And the overwhelming majority of those with 50 or more employees already offer insurance,” said Wilson. “There was never a mandate on employers with fewer than 50 employees. Those employees, as well as the unlucky few who work for a company with more than 50 employees that doesn’t offer health insurance, can go to the insurance exchange and obtain subsidized premiums for probably no more than their share of an employer-sponsored plan.”

Wilson pointed out failure to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma benefits insurance companies, which, in his opinion have a disproportionate amount of influence over most politicians.

“Insurance companies don’t get any of the money under Medicaid expansion,” said Wilson. “The hospitals want Medicaid expansion.”

Wilson said the “Oklahoma Plan,” proposed by Gov. Mary Fallin and the Republican leadership ensures insurance companies get to play.


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