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May 18, 2013

Fallin urges last-minute health care fix

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin proposed a last-minute legislative change Friday to the state’s Insure Oklahoma program that would direct $50 million in state tobacco taxes to pay for more than 9,000 people who are expected to lose their health insurance under the program.

Insure Oklahoma currently uses federal Medicaid funding, state tobacco tax revenue and payments from workers and employers to provide health insurance to about 30,000 low-income Oklahomans, but the federal government notified Oklahoma last week that the program must change in order to qualify for federal funding. The program is expected to lose its federal funding Dec. 31.

Fallin released a statement Friday urging lawmakers to redirect the $50 million so Insure Oklahoma could continue to operate as a “smaller, more targeted program run with state dollars only.”

“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,” Fallin said. “Unless a bill is passed this year, 9,000 working, low-income Oklahomans will be stripped of their health insurance. That is not an outcome that any of us at the State Capitol should accept.”

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the rest of the 20,000 or so people currently enrolled in the Insure Oklahoma program likely qualify for federal subsidies to purchase insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act.

House Speaker T.W. Shannon did not appear eager Friday to embrace Fallin’s proposal.

“I don’t believe providing health insurance is a proper or efficient function of government,” Shannon, R-Lawton, said in a statement. “I have no plans to continue a government-run insurance program that will cost $50 million to serve 9,000 Oklahomans. I simply do not believe it’s the government’s job.”

Shannon wasn’t the only Republican legislator skeptical of Fallin’s proposal.

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