By Associated Press - Friday, July 10, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A state program that uses a combination of state tobacco tax revenue and federal Medicaid money to help provide health insurance coverage for nearly 18,000 low-income Oklahoma will receive federal funding through the end of 2016, state officials said on Friday.

Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Health Care Authority Chief Executive Officer announced that Oklahoma’s request for an extension has been approved by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“This funding extension is great news for the thousands of working Oklahomans and small businesses that rely on Insure Oklahoma for affordable health insurance options,” Fallin said. “Our goal moving forward continues to be securing a permanent extension for this successful, Oklahoma-based program.”

About 3,700 Oklahoma businesses and 17,900 individuals currently participate in the program, which was created by the Legislature in 2005.

The federal matching funds for the program in 2016 are expected to be about $64 million, while about $35 million will come from state tobacco taxes, according to state projections.

Insure Oklahoma has two different options - one for employers in which the state pays about 60 percent of the premium cost, the business pays 25 percent, and the employee pays 15 percent. Employees who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $23,540 for an individual, can qualify for that program.

The second option is for individuals who work for small businesses that don’t offer health insurance or who are temporarily unemployed and looking for work. To qualify for that program, an employee must earn no more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, or $11,770 for an individual.

Insure Oklahoma was scheduled to cease operating at the end of the year. Federal officials expected many of the recipients to be eligible for Medicaid expansion, but Fallin rejected the expansion amid bitter resistance from some Republicans to the expansion allowed under the federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama.

About 144,000 of the estimated 632,000 uninsured Oklahoma residents would have been eligible for health coverage under the expansion, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, a clearinghouse for information on the health care system.

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