Henry signs insurance plan, Medicaid bills

Saturday, June 10th 2006, 12:56 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry on Friday signed into law a bill to expand health insurance coverage to small businesses and their employees.

It was among more than a dozen bills passed during the final week of the legislative session that Henry signed. Their signing closed the book on the 2006 Legislature.

The ``Insure Oklahoma'' program passed in 2004, providing government subsidies to businesses with up to 25 employees to buy health care insurance. The bill signed on Friday extends the program to businesses with up to 50 workers.

``By strengthening 'Insure Oklahoma,' we are helping small businesses provide health insurance for their employees and subsequently reduce business costs for themselves,'' the governor said.

``One of the biggest factors in health care and business costs is the alarming percentage of citizens without health insurance. More Oklahomans with adequate health insurance will result in healthier businesses and healthier citizens.''

Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, sponsored the legislation.

Henry also signed another bill by Steele and Adelson that makes changes in the state Medicaid system.

Proponents say it will cut costs by moving away from a ``one-size-fits-all'' system to one that is tailored to each individual patient's needs.

Under the new system, recipients will choose from a menu of options and services to match their own needs, Steele said. He said participants will be allowed to opt out of Medicaid and use their state ``premium'' to take part in employer-sponsored health care plans.

Another bill signed by Henry will strengthen Oklahoma's teacher and public employee retirement systems.

Sen. Mike Mazzei, author, said the bill requires funding for any proposed legislation that will increase the financial liability of the retirement programs.

Mazzei, R-Bixby, said the system for teachers has an unfunded liability of $7 billion that must be reduced to improve the cost of bonding expenses for capital improvement projects. He said the size of the problem could cripple the state's finances in the future if changes are not made.

Mazzei said the bill signed by Henry ``should help us better ensure financial security for our retired teachers and public employees.''

Henry also signed legislation to restrict the sale of ultra-violent video games to children. It will prohibit selling video games that feature inappropriate and gratuitous violence to minors.

``While parents have the ultimate responsibility for what their children do and see, this legislation is another tool to ensure that our young people are not saturated in violence,'' Henry said.

Henry also vetoed five bills, including one that he said sets an arbitrary date for the destruction of exhibits in court cases that he said may be too short and could complicate felony cases if new evidence or forensic techniques become available.