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Health care waiver sought by Oklahoma officials

A health care waiver requested by Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak is now in the fact-gathering stage, according to the department.
BY ANDREW KNITTLE aknittle@opubco.com Published: October 11, 2011
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Law's impact

Catherine Garrett, who sells health insurance products in northwest Oklahoma, says she's already seen the effects of the pending medical-loss ratio change.

The owner of a small insurance agency in Enid, she started seeing a decline in her commissions last October.

“In some cases we're losing 10 whole points — and I don't mean percentage points,” Garrett said. “If you're talking about 20 percent taken down to 10 percent, that's a 50 percent decline in commissions.”

Because of the looming changes, she said many “smaller” insurance companies are fleeing — or have already fled — the Oklahoma market.

“That's the biggest problem,” Garrett said. “Because a lot of these smaller companies — and when I say small, I mean they're not trillion-dollar companies on Wall Street — offer better discounts and better options than the big guys, but they're dropping out of the marketplace. A lot of them started to do that pretty much as soon as Obama got elected.”

Doing business in smaller cities like Watonga, Canton, Kingfisher and Hennessey, she said it's harder for rural residents to get individual health insurance coverage in general. These customers also are typically afforded fewer options, a problem Garrett believes will be exacerbated by looming ratio changes.

“I think that will hurt our customers ... having policies that are cookie-cutter, with fewer options,” she said. “Now a policy with United Healthcare looks the same as one from Humana, which are two of the biggest companies out there.”

Garrett said she supports “all Oklahomans having health care,” but remains wary of reducing competition for large, multinational corporations selling insurance products in Oklahoma.

“They're there to maximize shareholders' wealth,” Garrett said, “not pay claims.”


Also ...

Other states seek waiver

In addition to Oklahoma, 15 other states and the territory of Guam have requested a waiver on the looming medical-loss ratio changes. Maine, New Hampshire, Nevada, Kentucky and Iowa have all had waiver requests approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in recent months. Along with Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Michigan, Kansas and Louisiana have requested the waiver but have yet to get a ruling. North Dakota and Delaware had requests rejected by the department. Federal officials determined that Guam's health care providers were in compliance with new medical-loss ratio standards, which mandate that 80 percent of individual and small group premiums to be used to provide medical care.

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