CHICKASHA — At 92 employees, Cimarron Trailers falls among the ranks of U.S. employers — those with 50 or more full time equivalent workers who, starting Jan. 1, must provide health insurance to its employees or face steep annual penalties under health care reform.
Cimarron, which makes custom aluminum stock trailers in Chickasha that are sold nationwide, has offered group health insurance since it opened February 2004. The problem: since 2009, some 42 percent of its eligible workers take advantage of slashed monthly insurance payments under Insure Oklahoma — a 7-year-old, state-run income- and family size-based premium assistance program for qualifying individuals and employees of businesses with 99 or fewer workers.
Insure Oklahoma may die in December, paradoxically, because of health reform.
“I fear for our employees, and how it will affect them, if they lose the Insure Oklahoma subsidies,” said Lynn Terry, who co-owns Cimarron with her husband, Michael.
“Even if they can get what they need from the exchanges (online marketplaces coming next year), I worry if it will be a price they can afford,” Terry said.
Insure Oklahoma cuts costs
Depending on whether workers opt for individual, spousal or full family coverage, Cimarron pays 65 percent to 78 percent of their monthly health insurance premiums, or $325 to $1,100, Terry said. For its workers in Insure Oklahoma, the state pays 60 percent; Cimarron, pays 25 percent; and participants pay no more than 15 percent, she said.
A Cimarron employee in Insure Oklahoma, for example, may pay $7 weekly to cover himself and his spouse, as opposed to $46 without assistance, she said.
If their subsidy goes away, many Cimarron workers, especially single young men, will drop coverage, Cimarron human resources director Clif Cypert suspects.
Nico Gomez, chief executive of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA), confirmed with The Oklahoman this week that his agency has been informed by officials at the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services that the waiver under which Insure Oklahoma was established will expire Dec. 31. That means some $79 million in annual matching federal dollars will go away for the program, which the state funds through $50.4 million in yearly state tobacco tax revenues.
But an optimistic Gomez said he continues to negotiate with federal officials about retaining federal funds to keep the program — or at least a version of it. “We've worked too hard for this program that it's not going to go away without a fight,” he said.
Program covers thousands
Current Insure Oklahoma participants include 4,789 businesses, representing 16,705 participants, Oklahoma Health Care Authority spokeswoman Jo Kilgore said.
As program administrators lobby for Insure Oklahoma's continuance, other industry observers continue to press for state expansion of Medicaid called for under health care reform, while many state businesses brace themselves for the largely unknown.
The federal government wants to end Insure Oklahoma and premium assistance programs in some 18 other states because, philosophically, there's no need for them under health reform, said Cori Loomis, a health care attorney with Crowe & Dunlevy in Oklahoma City. The federal legislation calls for expanding Medicaid, which has traditionally been offered to only women and children, and offering tax breaks to, basically, the working poor, or those Insure Oklahoma and the other assistance programs intrinsically serve, she said.