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Oklahoma governor urges state lawmakers to address health insurance issue

Gov. Mary Fallin says lawmakers must act before adjourning next week to approve legislation for about 9,000 low-income Oklahomans who stand to lose their health insurance coverage at the end of this year.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: May 18, 2013

Gov. Mary Fallin called on lawmakers Friday to approve a measure that would provide health insurance coverage for about 9,000 low-income Oklahomans who will lose their insurance at the end of this year.

To pay for the coverage, the Republican governor is proposing redirecting $50 million in state tobacco taxes now going to the Insure Oklahoma program.

“Insure Oklahoma would then continue as a smaller, more targeted program run with state dollars only,” Fallin said.

The federal government last week denied the state of Oklahoma's request for a waiver that would have extended the Insure Oklahoma program. The program is expected to lose its federal funding Dec. 31.

“While none of this mess is the fault of the Oklahoma Legislature, it's imperative that our lawmakers work now to prevent currently insured Oklahomans from being left without access to affordable health care,” Fallin said. “I am asking the Legislature to send me a bill that would continue Insure Oklahoma as a state-funded program before they adjourn for the year.”

Legislative leaders are hoping to adjourn by the end of next week.

Fallin's request met with a thud from House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

“I have no plans to continue a government-run insurance program that will cost $50 million to serve 9,000 Oklahomans,” said Shannon, R-Lawton. “I simply do not believe it's the government's job.

“I don't believe providing health insurance is a proper or efficient function of government,” he said. “As conservatives, we should stand against such desires no matter where they come from, be it local or state government, federal bureaucrats or President Obama himself.”

‘Not a new idea'

State tobacco tax revenues along with federal Medicaid money and payments from workers and employers are used to fund Insure Oklahoma, which provides health insurance to about 30,000 low-income Oklahomans.

About 21,000 of the 30,000 Insure Oklahoma participants will eventually be covered by the health care exchange, or online marketplace, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, said Alex Weintz, Fallin's communications director.

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