Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Lawmakers Gather Input on Reducing Number of Uninsured

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Lawmakers Gather Input on Reducing Number of Uninsured

Article excerpt

Don't get caught up in the numbers game when it comes to decreasing the ranks of the uninsured, Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy for Washington, D.C.-based Families USA, told Oklahoma lawmakers Tuesday. Focusing solely on reducing the number of uninsured Oklahomans as an end unto itself may inadvertently exacerbate one of the major problems driving up insurance premiums - cost shifting.

On the other hand, Tom Daxon of the Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs said encouraging individuals to pay for more of their own health care, while allowing insurance companies to make a profit, is the best way to address Oklahoma's high rate of uninsured people.

Oklahoma families that buy health insurance pay an extra $1,781 per year in premiums to cover the cost of providing care to the uninsured - the third-highest level of cost shift in the country, behind West Virginia and New Mexico, said Stoll. That added cost makes it even more difficult for struggling families to afford health coverage, thereby threatening to increase the level of the uninsured in Oklahoma. But being able to say more people have health insurance does not fix the problem.

"Trying to stretch available dollars as far as you can to as many people as possible may be counter-productive," said Stoll. "Utah doesn't provide coverage for hospital services, yet they say those people are 'covered.'"

Having inadequate coverage leads to the same problems as having no health coverage at all; those with low incomes, when asked to pay for services that are not covered or have high deductibles, often choose to forgo needed treatments or medications. When their medical conditions later reach a critical stage, they show up in hospital emergency rooms.

"You need to provide adequate coverage so that later down the road, they don't become sicker and need more expensive care," said Stoll. …

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