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"The Future of Care"


April 12, 2009 -- It's taken a few years for Oklahoma's Republican legislative leadership to embrace an innovative program conceived by the state's Democratic governor for reducing the number of Oklahomans who don't have health insurance.

But GOP lawmakers have finally come around to support Gov. Brad Henry's Insure Oklahoma premium assistance program in a bipartisan coalition that is working to address an issue that concerns Republicans and Democrats alike: health care.

Last week, Henry signed Republican-backed legislation designed to enhance Insure Oklahoma, originally enacted in 2004 to help small businesses provide health care coverage for their low- and middle-income employees and reduce the state's estimated 619,000 uninsured residents.

Funded by revenue from the state's tobacco tax and federal matching dollars, the public-private partnership has enrolled more than 18,000 Oklahomans in employee-sponsored or individual health insurance plans and is signing up new participants at the rate of about 1,000 a month.

GOP lawmakers, some of whom were only lukewarm about Insure Oklahoma when it first was proposed, now say it has gained national notoriety and is being used as a model by other states who are developing their own premium assistance plans.

They say the improvements they proposed will help increase enrollment and make health insurance more accessible while reducing the cost of health insurance plans.

"It's the kind of bipartisanship that gets things done. I think the people of Oklahoma would want that from their elected officials," said Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Kris Steele, who lives in the governor's hometown of Shawnee and worked closely with Henry in developing additions to Insure Oklahoma.

"This is a step in the right direction in reducing the number of uninsured," Steele said. "I feel very fortunate to be able to work with Governor Henry on this issue."

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