Reflecting a nationwide challenge, too many Oklahomans are without health insurance. It is a real Catch-22 for healthcare consumers: Skyrocketing healthcare costs make insurance more critical than ever, but the escalating costs are precisely why many families are unable to afford insurance premiums.

My administration has made it a top priority to increase the numbers of insured citizens. In 2004, I successfully pushed for the creation of Insure Oklahoma, a bold and innovative strategy to help small businesses provide health coverage for their employees. Under this voluntary program, the state covers 60 percent of insurance costs, employers pay 25 percent and employees are asked to pay 15 percent. The program is administered by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and utilizes matching funds form the federal government.

With more and more small businesses learning about Insure Oklahoma, I am pleased to report that we are expanding this worthwhile program. Initially, Insure Oklahoma was available for businesses with 25 or fewer employees. Recently, however, I signed emergency rules that expand eligibility to employers with up to 50 workers. The rules, which had been submitted by the OHCA, were necessitated by a bill I signed into law earlier this year.

Whether you realize it or not, the numbers of uninsured Oklahomans impact us all. One in five citizens in our state has been without healthcare coverage. Invariably, the cost of medical treatment for the uninsured is passed on to other consumers in the form of rising insurance premiums. In fact, uninsured health care accounts for as much as 30 percent of the spike that we have seen in insurance premiums.

Of course, the challenges involving health insurance will not be remedied by a single program. There are a host of things we must do, not the least of which is to urge healthy lifestyles. Nevertheless, Insure Oklahoma is a significant move in the right direction.

If you have questions or comments, please write me at the Office of the Governor, Room 212, Oklahoma City OK 73105 or visit the "Contact the Governor" section of my website, www.governor.ok.gov.