Oklahoma ranks fifth in the United States in the number of working uninsured. That’s not a statistic Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland is proud of. In fact, she’s dedicated to changing those numbers.

Working people tend to be uninsured for two primary reasons, Holland told the Progress during a visit to Claremore last week.

One is a pre-existing condition that makes it difficult or impossible to get insurance.

The second is that the individuals cannot afford insurance, often because their employers don’t provide it.

Being at the top of the nation’s list for working uninsured is something Holland wants to change.

Having such high numbers of uninsured creates a financial burden everyone in the state must bear, she said. Those dollars are passed on to all citizens through higher medical costs — to the tune of $954 million per year— , she said.

“That creates a very challenging situation,” she said. “There are 661,000 people in Oklahoma uninsured and working age. That creates a burden on the business community because those costs are shifted.”

Oklahoma has a program that can help reduce this Oklahoma cost shift. It’s called Insure Oklahoma and it is a premium assistance program which helps small businesses provide insurance to employees.

“It’s a unique public-private partnership,” Holland said. Similar plans in other states “don’t preserve existing insurance providers. Those programs usually aren’t successful.”

“We need to use the agent community,” Holland said.

She has 25 years experience in the insurance field and understands how the system works.

The program is funded through a state pool of money set aside from the tobacco trust fund resulting from a settlement.

In addition to that program, the Commission has a fraud division to protect Oklahoma consumers in a variety of ways.

“We actually have law enforcement status,” Holland said. “We do not arrest people. We investigate and work with local law enforcement agencies. I’m very proud of our fraud team. Most states don’t have teams with law enforcement status. ”

The fraud division investigates everything from consumer fraud to agents collecting premiums and not paying, embezzlement, or companies that take advantage of senior citizens.

“We’re very aggressive about our fraud investigations, especially helping our seniors,” Holland said. “Insurance products are very complex these days.”

Oklahoma, like the rest of the nation, is getting older. Numbers of citizens over the age of 65 is on the increase, and seniors are frequently targets of unscrupulous people, Holland said.

“That’s unacceptable. We’re not going to tolerate that,” she said. “The most important thing we can get is restitution. We care about getting people’s money back.”

Holland said she has worked to restore the image of the Insurance Commission and make the agency an advocate for Oklahomans.

The Commission has a hotline number — 1-800-522-0071 — to answer consumer questions regarding insurance. Holland said no question about insurance programs, coverage, or law is off-limits. Somebody at the Commission will find the answers.

“We really want our consumers to call if they have a question,” said Holland.

For more information: www.insureoklahoma.org

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