Friday, August 7, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" - Amid Health Care Debate, Oklahoma Quietly Improves Program

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everybody. As the federal government grapples with health care, an Oklahoma program to help people who cannot get insurance quietly got a boost last month.

State government cannot solve every health care concern, but it can help. That is why the state created the Oklahoma High Risk Pool; it is a health insurance plan for those who cannot get health insurance because they present too great a risk to insurance companies’ profits.

Currently, 34 states offer some form of risk pool, covering about 183,000 people. The High Risk Pool administrators work with a network of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to ensure patients receive high quality care in the most cost-efficient manner.

The Legislature created the Oklahoma High Risk Pool in 1995 to provide insurance for qualified individuals who could not get traditional health care insurance coverage because of a serious health condition. This plan creates a pool out of the individuals to whom insurance companies do not want to sell individual policies.

The plan is state-sponsored health insurance that “high risk” individuals can buy. While the cost is higher than it would be if these Oklahomans were able to qualify for a private plan, it is still good health insurance when no other choice exists. It just got better.

One of the problems with the High Risk Pool is that it had too low a lifetime cap. That is why we passed, and the governor signed, Senate Bill 2119 in 2008.

The law – which became effective July 1, 2009 – increases the Oklahoma High Risk Pool lifetime maximum coverage from $500,000 to $1 million. It stands to reason that if an Oklahoman is a “high risk,” then they may very well need greater coverage.

Oklahomans deserve health insurance coverage that really means insurance. Too many families have to choose between getting critical health care needs met, or meeting other daily needs like food and housing.

That is why I support many proposals to ensure health insurance works for the people paying the premiums. While we ran into roadblocks on many of those, this bill did make it through – and will make a difference.

It is struggle enough to be fighting for your life against a disease without having to worry about hitting the coverage ceiling. That is especially true for those Oklahomans whose medical conditions have tagged them as “high risk” with the insurance industry.

The High Risk Pool has not solved the health insurance crisis; it never will. But it does help. Availability of health insurance is a life or death matter, and on this issue like so many others, I will always come down on the side of life.

Any Oklahoman who thinks they might benefit from the High Risk Pool should seriously look at this option. Interested individuals can contact the Oklahoma High Risk Pool at 1-800-255-6065 and ask for extension 4767.

Thanks again for reading “The Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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