With an estimated one in eight veterans under age 65 uninsured nationwide, State Senator Andrew Rice has introduced a bill to ensure that all Oklahoma veterans have access to adequate health insurance.
"There is a common misconception that all veterans qualify for free health care through the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, but sadly this isn't the case," said Rice, D-Oklahoma City. "Thousands of vets are falling through the cracks. They make too much to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care, but are too poor to afford private coverage."
Senate Bill 59 would expand the Oklahoma Employer/Employee Partnership for Insurance Coverage Program (O-EPIC), also known as the Insure Oklahoma program, to include certain qualified veterans. There are two plans available under the program including Employer Sponsored Insurance (ESI) and the Individual Plan (IP). Under Rice's legislation, veterans would be included under the Individual Plan, which
currently provides coverage to more than 5,200 Oklahomans.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as of November 2007, Oklahoma had more than 338,000 veterans and more than 211,000 of those were under 65. Based on a 2007 Harvard University study which estimated one in eight veterans nationwide under the age of 65 is uninsured, Rice points to the fact that Oklahoma could have more than 26,000 vets who are uninsured.
"Unfortunately, there is no entity that tracks uninsured vets so we have no idea of how many are affected, but in my eyes one is too many given what these individuals have sacrificed and done for the sake of our country's freedom and that of other people around the world," said Rice. "There are no words to thank these brave individuals for their work, but we can help make sure that they have adequate access to healthcare. It's a small price to pay compared to all they have done for us."
Like other participants in the Individual Plan, veterans would pay a portion of their monthly premiums based on their annual household income. For individuals, this is up to just over $51 and to nearly $69 for an individual and a spouse.
In order to qualify, a veteran would have to be an Oklahoma resident between the ages of 19 and 64 with a household income no greater than the sum of an amount equal to 25 percent of the federal poverty level or an amount equal to the federal Veterans Health Administration means test income threshold when entering the program. The person could not be on active duty or have been dishonorably discharged from service. The individual would also have had to been uninsured for at least six months unless the person lost coverage because his or her military post-active duty benefits expired or the individual lost his or her employee-sponsored plan due to being laid off or the employer no longer offered the benefits.