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Bill expanding ‘Insure Oklahoma’ program passes Senate committee

OKLAHOMA CITY - A Senate bill seeking to expand the Insure Oklahoma program has advanced out of committee Monday morning.

Senate Bill 605, authored by Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, directs the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority to implement "the Oklahoma Plan" within Insure Oklahoma. An agency spokesperson said the program provides premium assistance to low-income working adults employed by small businesses.

The latest numbers from Insure Oklahoma show less than 19,000 are enrolled.

According to McCortney, the intent of his bill is to provide insurance for Oklahomans who would qualify for Medicaid in states which opted to expand but are currently not insured.

"If they have private insurance, we’ll have 200,000 people who now can go to the doctor instead of go to the emergency to get free care. They’re going to be going to the doctor’s office getting the care they need when they need it instead of waiting for an emergency room visit," McCortney told News 4. "The Oklahoma Plan, what it is, is being able to use private insurance to take care of and manage the healthcare costs for our population so, instead of asking the state agency to do that, and state agencies traditionally don’t do that, well, we’re going to go out to the private market and let private companies do that."

The proposed measure unanimously passed the Senate Retirement and Insurance committee by a 9 to 0 vote, though it did not come without questions.

"At some point, if the federal government reduces its match, what is our obligation and can we afford it as a state?" questioned Sen. Gary Stanislawski. "Senator McCortney had stated that the Legislature would have to affirmatively approve any continuation in the event the federal government changes any rule to our waiver if they – six years from now decided, disapprove the waiver then the Legislature has to affirmatively vote for continually for continuation, so that gives some safeguards to us."

If passed by the full Legislature and signed into law, McCortney said it could cost Oklahoma about $141 million to implement the program with the more than $1 billion coming in from the federal government. The cost to implement would not come from a tax increase, he said.

"This is money that we are able to find within the system. Really, we’re spending money now to pay hospitals to take care of people that don’t have insurance. A lot of the money will just be moved from that into providing insurance for these people," McCortney said.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) released a statement Monday afternoon expressing their disappoint in the committee passage. OCPA Jonathan Small challenged the cost it would take to implement the program and said he believed it would take much more than $141 million, partially due to the rate of Medicaid enrollment.

According to Small, the average cost for Medicaid expansion has been around $5,200 per person.

“Annually, more than one million Oklahomans are on Medicaid. Oklahoma’s Medicaid population and costs have exploded," Small said in a statement. "If Senate Bill 605 becomes law, it will expose Oklahoma to potentially $321 million in new, required Oklahoma taxpayer spending annually."

Though the bill passed unanimously in committee, the title was stricken which is a procedural move to ensure the bill will be forced to a conference committee later in the session unless the House and Senate can agree upon the final language earlier.

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