For the past two years, anyone shopping on Oklahoma's health insurance exchange has come face to face with the stark reality of Obamacare. Left with only one insurer to choose from, Oklahomans have been forced to shop for expensive plans that may not necessarily fit their needs.
In 2018, average monthly premiums for a benchmark Obamacare plan in Oklahoma were $659, almost $200 more than the national average. It's no surprise, then, that Oklahoma's uninsured rate in 2017 was 14.2 percent — second highest in the country.
Fortunately, the Trump administration opened the door for affordable health insurance in Oklahoma and across the country when it rolled back an Obama-era guidance designed to hamstring short-term, limited-duration insurance. Oklahoma's legislators ought to take full advantage of this opportunity to bring back affordable health care.
These short-term plans are not required to cover the essential health benefits mandated by Obamacare, which makes them far cheaper — monthly premiums averaged $124 in 2016. Unwilling to make room for an alternative to the exchanges, the Obama administration issued guidance limiting the duration of these plans to three months, and prohibited providers from guaranteeing renewability to policyholders who developed major illnesses.
Soon after the Trump administration undid these restrictions, Obamacare supporters began referring to the short-term plans as “junk insurance,” and warning Americans that if these plans weren't banned, insurers would be able to trick them into buying inadequate plans. Some states responded by placing all sorts of restrictions on the plans. California banned them outright.
As a physician and former senator, I find these attempts to sabotage short-term, limited-duration insurance plans objectionable. By taking a viable option for affordable health insurance and torpedoing it as “junk insurance,” certain lawmakers have proven they care about defending government-run health care more than they care about enacting real reform.
This rhetoric is not only misleading, it's offensive. The suggestion is that without the help of the federal government, Americans won't be able to choose an insurance plan that works for them and their families, or worse: They'll be scammed into buying a plan that doesn't suit their needs. I hate to break it to folks who think like that, but Americans did just fine picking out insurance plans before Obamacare, and they can do just fine without it.
Earlier this month, the Oklahoma Department of Insurance issued guidance limiting the duration of these plans to fewer than six months, and also banned guaranteed renewability. This is a mistake. These regulations will hamper the insurance plans in Oklahoma as much as the Obama rule did.
It's still possible for Oklahoma to unleash the full potential of short-term insurance plans by passing a law allowing short-term insurance plans to last for up to a year, with the option to offer renewability guarantees for up to three years. They already have the support: Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak recently announced his support for these plans, making it clear that these plans are “affordable options for millions left behind in the Obamacare disaster.”
This piece originally appeared at The Oklahoman
Dr. Tom Coburn is the Nick Ohnell Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a former two-term U.S. Senator from Oklahoma.