The rate of Oklahomans without health insurance declined 3.9 percentage points in 2014, but states that took advantage of provisions in the Affordable Care Act saw bigger drops, according to a survey released this week.
Oklahoma’s rate of uninsured went from 21.4 percent in 2013 to 17.5 percent by the middle of 2014, according to the state-by-state survey from Gallup.
About 69,000 Oklahomans signed up for health insurance on the federal exchange between Oct. 1 and March 31, the deadline for enrollment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Open enrollment begins again Nov. 15.
States that expanded Medicaid and set up health-insurance exchanges saw the biggest decreases. The uninsured rate for those states fell by an average of 4 percentage points. Arkansas led the country with a 10.1 percentage point decrease — from 22.5 to 12.4.
The rate for states that didn’t both expand Medicaid and set up an exchange saw an average decline of 2.2 percentage points.
Jim McCarthy, executive director of Community Health Connection, said the rate in Oklahoma declined because of the federal mandate that all people acquire health insurance, and the slight improvement in the economy.
But potential increases in the rate of those with insurance were stunted because Oklahoma went out of its way to paint the Affordable Care Act in a negative light and did nothing to encourage citizens to acquire insurance, McCarthy said.
“In my opinion that’s a pure politics decision,” he said.
“Having health insurance helps people to get preventive care that can make them healthier and avoid chronic disease, all of which saves money for everyone in the long run,” he said. “People are healthier and there is less cost to society.”
Mike Rhoads, deputy commissioner of life and health at the Oklahoma Insurance Department, said it is too early to tell much from the numbers, but they are trending in the right direction.
The insurance department’s estimates had the 2013 rate of uninsured closer to 18 percent or 19 percent, he said.
Whether people buy insurance depends on whether they can afford it, and insurance has always been expensive, he said.
“At the end of the day, it always comes down to the cost, even if it is subsidized,” he said.