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With many uninsured, Oklahoma pushes program for working poor

By Warren Vieth
Oklahoma Watch

The social media blitz started in late July. The radio and TV spots showed up in mid-August, along with six billboards placed along key interstate highways. A sleeker website will be unveiled soon.

The message: Insure Oklahoma is still open for business, and ready to grow.

The $450,000 marketing campaign comes after five years of steady shrinkage in the 10-year-old, tax-supported health insurance program for Oklahoma’s working poor.

In a state that refused to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, some officials say Insure Oklahoma is the best available option to cover more of the uninsured.

The marketing campaign was launched to reverse a decline that began about the same time as congressional debate and enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

“That was a game-changer,” said Nico Gomez, CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

“There were a lot of court cases, there were a lot of changes, just a tremendous amount of chaos in the health care market.”

Businesses became wary of staying in or signing up for a state program that kept being extended a year at a time, while state and federal officials were in a political standoff over health care policy, he said. Even today, Insure Oklahoma is operating under an extension that will expire at the end of next year.

“They (businesses) did not want to get involved in a program and provide a benefit to their employees that they would then have to take away,” Gomez said.

The number of small businesses participating in the program has fallen by 35 percent over five years, from 5,632 to 3,639. The number of people covered has dropped by 47 percent over a four-year period, from 32,735 to 17,327.

About 7,000 people dropped off the rolls on Jan. 1, 2014, when the state lowered the income limit for individuals who can receive subsidized coverage through Insure Oklahoma. But that accounted for less than half of the total shrinkage, data shows.

The Health Care Authority, which administers the program, essentially shut down its marketing and recruitment efforts when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. Gomez said he decided to crank it back up this year because he’s convinced…

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