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Healing Hands How some states are easing the health-insurance burden

By Chris Penttila

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Providing employees with health coverage is a struggle forCarrie Howard, co-owner of DJ's Industrial Rubber Products, a six-employeeOklahoma City company that sells fire-hose fittings. Even with 2005sales at $1 million, the company can't afford to cover itsemployees. Howard says, "If they could have a $20 co-pay, orany help with prescriptions, they would do it."

Howard, 42, and the company's employees could get help verysoon from the state government. In November, Oklahoma startedOklahoma Employer/Employee Partnership for Insurance Coverage, avoter-approved statewide health insurance program for companieswith fewer than 25 employees. Funded largely through a tobacco taxincrease, the state picks up 60 percent of an employee'spremium, the employer pays 25 percent, and the employee pays theremaining 15 percent.

The program will help Oklahoma's small employers providebenefits and reduce the number of Oklahoma'suninsured--currently 600,000. Within the first few weeks of theprogram, 206 companies had submitted applications, and its mailinglist has ballooned to 4,500 subscribers. "We've had a tonof phone calls," says Matt Lucas, project director for theOklahoma Health Care Authority, which is administering theemployer/employee partnership. "It's a fairly innovativeprogram."

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