Gov. Mary Fallin announced Monday the state of Oklahoma has been granted a one-year extension for the Insure Oklahoma program.
The program, scheduled to expire at the end of 2014, has been extended through Dec. 31, 2015.
“This is great news for the thousands of adults and children who currently buy health insurance through Insure Oklahoma,” Fallin said in a news release. “These Oklahomans and their families can now be assured that they won’t lose their insurance on Jan. 1.”
About 19,000 low-income Oklahomans are enrolled in coverage through Insure Oklahoma, a program administered by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
This includes about 14,000 in the Insure Oklahoma employer-sponsored insurance and about 5,000 in individual plans, according to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
The program is financed with state tobacco tax money, matched with federal dollars, according to Fallin’s office.
The total program expenditure for Insure Oklahoma for the 2014 fiscal year was about $116 million.
No changes required
The program was set to expire at the end of 2013, but the federal government in September granted the program a one-year extension, although that extension changed income guidelines for people enrolled in individual plans.
The federal government did not require any changes to the program under the extension announced Monday.
Previously, the Insure Oklahoma individual plan program was available to people who earned up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
However, after the first extension, Oklahoma was required to change its guidelines, with the individual plan coverage program only available to workers who make up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority sent about 7,325 termination letters at the end of September.
Fallin said she and her administration will continue to work with federal officials to make the program permanent.
Insure Oklahoma is the kind of state-based health care option the federal government should be supporting, she said.
“For years, Insure Oklahoma has been successfully used by thousands of small businesses to help their employees purchase insurance, and it’s been a success for tens of thousands of families of modest means who would be uninsured without it,” Fallin said.
‘The state’s model’
Oklahoma implemented the Insure Oklahoma employer-sponsored insurance in November 2005, targeting about 50,000 low-wage working adults in Oklahoma, according to the authority.
Nico Gomez, the CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, said Insure Oklahoma is a program created for Oklahomans by Oklahomans and is an option if Oklahoma lawmakers wanted to increase coverage for other Oklahomans.
“(The extension) maintains that infrastructure so if policymakers want to improve the program in the future, it’s available,” Gomez said.
When Gomez was asked if Oklahoma would be discussing extensions for Insure Oklahoma had state leaders expanded the Medicaid program — a key element of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare — Gomez said expanding the state’s Medicaid program is not an option right now.
“That decision has been made, so right now, to help low-income Oklahomans purchase health insurance, Insure Oklahoma is the state’s model,” Gomez said.
Gomez said his hope is that the federal government will extend Insure Oklahoma far beyond 2015.
“Our focus now is — how do we start to rebuild the brand and the program where folks are looking at Insure Oklahoma as a viable option again?” Gomez said.
CONTRIBUTING: RANDY ELLIS,