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Oklahoma State Senate

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For Immediate Release: March 3, 2008

Senator Andrew Rice
Sen. Andrew Rice

Rice Plan to Help Uninsured Veterans Gets Bipartisan Boost from Senate

The Oklahoma State Senate today overwhelmingly approved a plan by Sen. Andrew Rice (D-OKC) to create a state Veterans Health Insurance Program that provides coverage to uninsured Oklahoma veterans below age 65.

By a convincing 45-1 vote, the Senate action leaves the State House of Representatives as the next obstacle to positioning Oklahoma among a growing group of states who are filling a void left when veterans return to civilian life and can’t afford private health insurance, yet earn too much to qualify for free or means-tested health care through the Veterans Administration.

“I thank my Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate for showing their strong support of this important program today,” Rice said. “I hope the House of Representatives will act with the same bipartisan support for our veterans. I believe every veteran has earned the right to qualify for some form of health insurance.”

Rice’s bill creates a state-run Health Insurance Program that would require veterans to pay premiums and co-payments based on their household income. Insurance coverage would become effective for eligible veterans beginning July 1, 2009.

“For those who believe that our state cannot afford to help our uninsured veterans, I ask them to examine the unfairness in their belief,” Rice said. “I don’t think any of these veterans, when they were ordered into battle, looked at their commander and said: ‘how much is it going to cost me?’.”

Rice was joined earlier today at the State Capitol by several Oklahoma veterans who have spoken out in support of the state insurance program for veterans.

“There is a huge misconception that all veterans automatically get V.A. benefits,” said Jim Kiper, a Vietnam War veteran from Oklahoma City. “The influx of new war veterans (from Iraq and Afghanistan) is overwhelming the system and Oklahoma needs to step forward.”

Based on estimates included in a Harvard Medical School study, approximately one in eight veterans are uninsured. If that is true in Oklahoma, the number of uninsured veterans in the state would be approximately 27,000.

Jack Scroggins, a Korean War veteran from Muskogee, said the Muskogee American Legion is overwhelmed by the number of veterans looking for assistance.

“Many of them don’t know where to turn,” Scroggins said. “Any legislation that helps our veterans is appreciated.”

During today’s Senate session, Senator Rice noted that Oklahomans have historically taken great pride in the state’s overall contribution to America’s military readiness.

“We owe our veterans the opportunity to recuperate and reshape their lives when they return to civilian life,” Rice said. “This cannot happen without access to affordable medical care.”

Since veterans of World War II and the Korean War have reached age 65 and are eligible for Medicare, most uninsured veterans fought in Vietnam or the Persian Gulf. Nationally, almost two-thirds of uninsured veterans are employed and nearly nine in ten have worked within the past year, according to the Harvard Med School study.

For more information contact:
Senator Rice's Office:  (405) 521-5610

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