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Local News

July 20, 2013

Lawmakers grapple with looming health care issue in Oklahoma

STILLWATER, Okla. — Thousands of Oklahomans may lose health care coverage if the state doesn’t take action before the end of 2013.

Health care was something the state believed wouldn’t be mandated, said Oklahoma State Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater.

“Whenever it was enforced by the Supreme Court, we didn’t have a plan in place,” Williams said. “We thought it would be overturned and something would happen to where it wouldn’t be mandated.”

Even though two-thirds of Oklahomans receive health care through Insure Oklahoma, if action isn’t taken, Insure Oklahoma will lose funding on Dec. 31, 2013, and 9,000 to 9,500 Oklahomans could lose health care.

After President Obama’s mandated health care was instituted, the state was warned if it didn’t change Insure Oklahoma to comply with the Affordable Health Care Act, the program would lose federal funding.

Even though two legislators, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa and Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, attempted to make changes to Senate Bill 640, which is the bill for Insure Oklahoma, to meet federal standards, the bill was not acted on before the end of the legislative session.

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

“Legislators work for the people of Oklahoma,” Cox said in a press release. “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.”

Crain, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services committee, is opposed to expanding Medicaid. He said, in a press release, legislators should look at surrounding states and what they are doing well to find a solution for providing health care to Oklahomans.

Williams said he doesn’t see Gov. Mary Fallin calling a special session to fix Insure Oklahoma, but if a special session is called, the state needs to take action on it. He said a special session may be called for the finding of the tort reform being unconstitutional and hopefully Insure Oklahoma will also be on the agenda.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the tort reform unconstitutional and it said the 90-section law violated the state’s single subject rule. If a special session is called fix the tort reform issue, Oklahoma legislatures need to address the Insure Oklahoma issue, too, Williams said.

“I hope if a special session is called, we handle the situation,” Williams said. “Insure Oklahoma might not be the reason we call it but we need to handle it.”

“If we go back and ignore it, we would have failed our constituency greatly.”

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