Report: Oklahomans can access 53 health care plans

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahomans will pay less than the national average for health insurance under an exchange scheduled to open next week as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, according to a report Wednesday by the U.S. government.

The report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects monthly premiums in Oklahoma will range from $266 for one type of plan to $174 for another before subsidies are applied. Rates will range from about 20 percent to 30 percent below the national average for plans outlined in the reports.

Dave Axene, a fellow of the Society of Actuaries, an educational, research and professional membership organization based in Schaumburg, Ill., said Oklahoma’s lower-than-average medical costs is a chief reason rates will be low.

“Things cost less there,” Axene said. For example, in Oklahoma City, the state’s largest city, the cost of a day of care in the hospital is 75 percent of what it is nationally.

“It’s cheaper in Oklahoma to go to the hospital,” Axene said. He said the cost of seeing a physician is similarly less than average.

The federally run health insurance marketplace opens Tuesday and health insurance enrollment will continue for six months. Coverage begins Jan. 1 for those who sign up by Dec. 15. Oklahoma is among 36 states where the federal government will run the marketplace in 2014.

In November, Gov. Mary Fallin rejected a state-based insurance exchange under the health care overhaul law. Fallin also turned down an expansion of Medicaid to provide coverage to low-income, uninsured citizens.

There are about 600,000 uninsured Oklahomans and about 200,000 would have benefited from the expansion, state officials have said.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said the reports indicate health insurance plans offered through the exchange will have lower rates than originally projected, making health care affordable for many uninsured Americans. Premiums nationwide will be around 16 percent lower than originally expected.

The Affordable Care Act requires all Americans to have health insurance, including plans offered by employers and government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid.

Individuals and families will be able to choose from a variety of bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans as well as catastrophic plans for young adults and those without affordable options.

On average, there are eight different health insurance issuers participating in each of the 36 states with federally operated insurance exchanges, the reports say. Five companies have been approved to participate in Oklahoma’s exchange.

Although the exchange will offer an average of 53 health plans, the reports indicate that number will vary by region. Oklahoma City residents, for example, will have 61 plans to choose from.

The reports compare average premiums of the lowest cost silver plan, the second lowest cost silver plan and the lowest cost bronze plan in 48 states, including Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, the lowest cost silver plan will cost $256 a month when the average of 48 states surveyed will be $310, according to the reports. The second lowest cost silver plan will cost $266 a month in the state when the average will be $328. The lowest cost bronze plan will cost $174 a month in Oklahoma and the average will be $249.

State Insurance Commissioner John Doak, a frequent critic of the health care law, has predicted that health insurance rates will “skyrocket” when it is implemented. On Wednesday, Doak called the federal reports “smoke and mirrors from the Obama administration.”

“Facts are facts. Rates are going up in Oklahoma,” Doak said in a statement. He said the reports are misleading and that Oklahoma’s health insurance rates are already lower than the national average because it has a competitive insurance market.

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