I have fond childhood memories of going to the ice cream parlor with my parents and six siblings. Despite what seemed like endless choices of ice cream on the menu, my dad would give us three options: brown, white or pink. You can imagine how we kids felt leaving the ice cream parlor with a scoop of brown ice cream when there were so many other options. So many choices, but the choice was already made for me.
That’s how the health insurance marketplace looks in Oklahoma today. Despite new rules recently established by the Trump administration, Oklahoma law limits options for our citizens when it comes to health insurance. Farmers and ranchers who live in rural Oklahoma need more health insurance options. Self-employed real estate agents, barbers, carpenters and hair stylists who want to make it on their own need more health insurance options.
With the help of House and Senate leadership, I’m requesting two pieces of legislation this year specifically aimed at giving Oklahomans more choices.
Senate Bill 943, authored by President Pro Tem Greg Treat and Speaker of the House Charles McCall, will allow sole proprietors and their families to join association health plans, thereby creating a better path for hardworking Oklahomans to access affordable, quality health insurance. Small businesses will enjoy the benefits of large group rates under the proposed bill and avoid the small employer mandate created under the Affordable Care Act.
Last year, President Trump’s Department of Labor made changes to association health plan rules thereby expanding their reach by allowing employer groups and associations to form them based on location or industry. Under Oklahoma’s existing law, certain groups and individual business owners are restricted from obtaining AHP coverage. SB 943 would line up state law with the federal rule so that small employers in Oklahoma can take full advantage of the new pathway. Small employers will enjoy the benefits of large group rates that are currently unachievable under the current structure.
Senate Bill 993 is authored by Sen. Nathan Dahm and Rep. Lewis Moore, and focuses on short-term, limited duration health insurance plans. These plans are temporary and provide health coverage for a limited period of time. Short-term does not mean limited benefits. The plans can be purchased at any time, unlike other health coverage where you have to wait for an open enrollment period or a life-changing event. Premiums for STLDI plans can also be more affordable because the coverage is not controlled by federal regulation.
Under new rules issued by the Trump administration, individuals can keep these plans for up to 364 days. They can also renew these plans for up to three years, but Oklahoma has a far more restrictive framework than the federal government, and as a result, choices for thousands of Oklahomans are subsequently limited. We are limited to six months on a nonrenewable basis. SB 993 would simply align the state law with the federal rules so that Oklahomans can take advantage of the newly expanded options for health insurance.
Ultimately, if passed, both SB 993 and SB 943 would not only give Oklahomans more health insurance options, but also the potential to save thousands on premiums while creating a robust health insurance marketplace right here in our state.
We all know that there are more choices out there than brown, white or pink. Oklahomans deserve the right to have more options.
Glen Mulready is Oklahoma’s insurance commissioner.