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Jan 12, 2012 7:12 PM by Trovette Tottress

Okla. Senate Democrats promote infant insurance

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Democrats in the Oklahoma Senate plan to file legislation this week that would require health insurers in the state to offer child-only insurance policies that covers anyone under age 18 - including newborns - not covered by family plans or Medicaid, two of the party's top senators said Thursday.

Democratic Leader Sean Burrage of Claremore and Sen. Tom Adelson of Tulsa accused Republican Commissioner of Insurance John Doak of not doing enough to restore coverage to infants after insurance companies doing business in Oklahoma stopped writing child-only policies in response the federal health care law passed in 2010.

State officials reached a partial solution with the companies in December when Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed an emergency rule to make child-only health insurance available for Oklahoma children ages 1-19, but infants not covered by family plan or Medicaid remained excluded.

Burrage described the emergency rule as a ploy to lure insurers back to the state by letting them off the hook of covering newborns.

"They want all the rewards and profits that come with the insurance business, but none of the risk," Burrage said.

Adelson, a former secretary of health, said Doak did not make effective use of his bully pulpit to "publicly embarrass" insurance providers.

"He should have," Adelson said. "What does it say about your corporate culture that you exclude newborns?"

Mike Rhoads, deputy commissioner of health insurance for the Oklahoma Insurance Department, dismissed the Democrats' criticism Thursday, saying the agency has successfully restored coverage for most children that need it and continues to look for ways to insure infants under the age of 1.

"We are consumer advocates," Rhoads said. "We're concerned about the gap."

Several insurers nationwide said they would stop selling individual child-only health insurance policies after a provision of the federal health care law that prevented them from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The insurers said they were trying to keep down costs because the new provision would allow parents or to leave a child uncovered until he was sick or injured, buy a policy only when care was needed and then cancel it when the child was well again.

The Oklahoma Insurance Department estimates the loss of coverage affected less than 4 percent of all children in the state.

Lawmakers elsewhere, including Colorado and Arkansas, passed legislation requiring insurers doing business in their states to provide child-only policies and Burrage said Oklahoma Senate Democrats will seek to do the same.

Burrage said Democrats will first file legislation to overturn the emergency rule that excludes children under age 1. A second bill will require insurers who write accident and health insurance policies in the state to offer at least one type of child-only policy.

Adelson said the situation affects no more than 1,000 newborns in Oklahoma and that health insurers could easily afford to provide coverage to them. But denial of coverage could be catastrophic for some Oklahoma families, he said.

Rhoads said Insurance Department officials are meanwhile working to have eligible newborns covered by the state's Medicaid program and others accepted into the Oklahoma Temporary High Risk Pool. In addition, the agency said some health insurance companies appear to be preparing to re-enter the Oklahoma child-only market for the first time in more than a year.

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