Thursday, March 02, 2006

OK is OK

Oklahoma has already begun finding new and innovative ways to bring small businesses access to affordable health insurance. One such program, Insure Oklahoma (Oklahoma’s Employer/ee Partnership for Insurance Coverage, or O-EPIC), centers on providing premium assistance for healthcare coverage to Oklahoma’s small businesses and low-income individuals. Insure Oklahoma was established during this year’s state legislature under the Oklahoma Health Care Recovery Act. Phase 1 of the program would put affordable health insurance within reach of employers with 25 or fewer workers, including those that offer minimal coverage.

Over 800 small businesses have already inquired about Insure Oklahoma! To be eligible for the program, employers will be required to contribute at least 25% of the premium for those employees who participate. The employee would contribute no more than 15% of their family's premium, but must verify that their household income is no greater than 185% of the federal poverty level.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is seeking final approval from the federal government to start Insure Oklahoma as early as the end of this year (2005)! The state plans to devote an average of $50 million per year to the initiative, money that will be generated through the new tobacco tax, which took effect on Jan. 1. Subject to approval by the federal government, the state’s subsidy will be matched each year with approximately $200 million in federal funds.

Comment: While I do not support the idea of using federal tax dollars to fund health care, this particular arrangement seems to have merit.

It requires contribution from both the employer and employee alike towards the cost of insurance.

The plans offered are “shelf” plans with full benefits, not some watered down mini-med type coverage.

Currently there are 9 carriers involved who offer plans that are “approved” under this program.

The state portion of the tax contribution comes from “sin” taxes on tobacco. In other words, those who have a greater tendency to use health care services are the ones who are funding this program.

Based on nothing more than a quick look, it seems that Oklahoma is OK with this concept.
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