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‘Complete Streets’ can be a path to a healthier, more prosperous Oklahoma

complete-streets-presentation-3-638Elizabeth Armstrong was a Fall 2015 OK Policy intern. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Oklahoma State University where she also works as a Graduate Research Assistant.

In ways far more important than many Oklahomans realize, the way we live today in Oklahoma depends greatly on the choices of past generations about how to construct our transportation and community infrastructure. Today our choices are no less important for future generations. If we want healthy, growing communities that are attractive to tomorrow’s most skilled workforce, we can’t make these decisions in the same ways we have in past decades.

One hopeful example of how a city is attempting to set a more future-looking, citizen-oriented path for development is Stillwater’s “Complete Streets” initiative with direct input from the newly formed Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee.

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Here are our top priorities for Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session

Over 1,700 bills and resolutions have been introduced for the 2016 legislative session, along with an equal number of measures from last session that remain alive and could still be considered this year. Despite the  plethora of legislation, there is little doubt that this session will be dominated by debates over how to address the state’s massive budget shortfall, which is at $901 million and is likely to grow even larger when the Board of Equalization certifies new projections in mid-February.

For OK Policy too, budget and tax issues will be of highest concern over the coming months. But we will also pay close attention to many other issue areas where there may be opportunities for policy gains or threats of serious setbacks. Last fall, our staff went through a multi-step process to identify our top priorities for 2016, identifying those issues that were of the greatest importance to Oklahomans while also fitting within our organization’s mission, expertise, and ability to make a difference. We came up with  some two dozen issues in six areas: budget and taxes, education, criminal justice, health care, voting and elections, and economic opportunity. In December, many of you took the time to complete a survey and offer feedback on our issues, which has helped us further hone our plan for the session.

Here is a brief summary of our 2016 policy priorities. We will be writing more about many of these issues in the coming weeks.

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To improve Oklahoma’s health, we must reduce inequality (Guest Post: Candace Smith)

by | January 20th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Candace Smith

Candace Smith

Candace Smith is an OK Policy Research Fellow and a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) Norman Campus. She is also a research assistant at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Planning, Research and Statistics.

Chronic diseases create significant quality of life challenges to patients and families, are expensive to treat, and occur with uncomfortable frequency in Oklahoma. Given our state’s poor overall health rankings, it comes as no surprise that we have some of the highest occurrences of chronic disease in the nation. Evidence shows that social inequalities drive these troubling diseases. It is abundantly clear that improving Oklahoman’s health requires reducing inequality.

A chronic disease is a health condition that lasts at least twelve months, requires ongoing medical attention, and/or limits an individual’s daily activities. They may be brought on or worsened by certain activities or behaviors: for instance, smoking commonly triggers emphysema, and unhealthy eating can cause diabetes. Although the prevalence of chronic disease is increasing around the country, the situation is especially bad in Oklahoma. Compared to both the nation and to nearby states like Arkansas, Texas, and Kansas, Oklahoma performs poorly on most chronic disease indicators.

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In Oklahoma, doors to health care shut for working families

by | January 4th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (1)

Elizabeth Armstrong is an OK Policy intern. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Oklahoma State University where she also works as a Graduate Research Assistant. Her free time is spent playing with her daughter.

Since the Affordable Care Act’s major provisions have come into effect, uninsured rates across the US have dropped precipitously. The nationwide uninsured rate is now below 10 percent. However, these gains have been uneven – in the 20 states that are still refusing federal dollars to cover low-income residents, uninsured rates remain significantly higher than the rest of the country. In Oklahoma, the state’s refusal to expand coverage has left some 100,000 Oklahomans in a coverage crater, unable to qualify for subsidized coverage on and ineligible for Medicaid.

A majority of Oklahomans in the coverage crater are working adults, and more than 1 in 4 have dependent children. Although we have seen significant improvements in health coverage for Oklahoma children, minimal advances have been made to insure the parents of these children. Without access to affordable health insurance, working parents may not be able to access screenings or preventive care and are more likely to be bankrupted by anything from pneumonia to injuries from a car accident. We know that healthy parents make healthy households, both physically and economically. If we deny these working parents access to healthy living, we also limit their ability to provide better social and economic opportunities for their children.

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Together, we can stop HIV/AIDS (Guest Post: Shannon Hall)

by | December 1st, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Shannon Hall is the Executive Director of Tulsa CARES, a social services agency for people living with HIV/AIDS. 

World AIDS Day is December 1st: a day of remembrance for the millions who have lost their lives to the disease, a day to support those who are in its grasp, and a day to commemorate the advances we have made to manage it. Each year brings news of more progress and more hope.  And yet, as we wait for medical breakthroughs, we have the power to stop its reach. 

Though conditions on the ground are much different in the United States and other developed countries than those in other places like Africa, the methods can work anywhere. Treatment is prevention. This is a mantra to those working in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention, management, and care. It underlies our model of outreach and connection.  But what does it mean?

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Budget troubles rolling back Oklahoma’s gains on health care (Capitol Updates)

by | November 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

The Oklahoma Healthcare Authority (OHCA) announced last week that it will implement a 3 percent cut in medical provider rates beginning January 1, 2016. This is due to state funding shortages that are making it difficult for OHCA to meet the state match for federal Medicaid funds. The rate cuts will not affect behavioral health rates because the state funding for behavioral health providers comes from money appropriated to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) rather than OHCA. So far, ODMHSAS has found other ways to meet its budget shortfalls without provider rate cuts. Behavioral health providers have good reason to feel fortunate, but there could come a time when the shoe is on the other foot and they suffer a rate cut when medical providers do not.

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Don’t touch Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund

by | November 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Healthcare | Comments (2)

As Oklahoma staggers through an apparently endless string of bad budget years, our investments in education, health care, public safety, and infrastructure that are tied to the annual budget cycle are suffering. Amid all the cuts and all the struggles just to survive from one year to the next, there’s at least one area where forward-thinking by an earlier generation of state leaders has left us in strong and stable condition: using tobacco settlement payments to invest in better health.

In the late 1990s, Oklahoma was one of 46 states that settled an historic lawsuit with the nation’s major tobacco companies. Under the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, states were assured an annual financial payment in perpetuity for as long as cigarettes are sold nationally as compensation for the public health-care costs associated with smoking. In return, the companies gained exemption from future state lawsuits regarding harm caused by tobacco use.

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Child uninsured rate is a health care bright spot for Oklahoma

by | November 12th, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

Some new research highlights a rare health care success story for Oklahoma. A new report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families found that the United States’ child uninsured rate hit an all-time low of 6 percent in 2014. Oklahoma saw one of the largest decreases in uninsured children, from 95,042 in 2013 to 82,251 in 2014 – a decline of 13.5 percent.

This is great news for many reasons. Having affordable health insurance is shown to improve child health. Children with health coverage have access to the care they need in order to keep growing and learning in school. When children who are covered do get sick, their families can take them to the doctor without fear of catastrophic health costs, and simple ailments can be managed before they can develop into more serious illnesses.

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What’s really behind Oklahoma’s rising Medicaid costs (Capitol Updates)

by | November 6th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Capitol Updates, Economy, Healthcare | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

A meeting of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee last week examined why Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentages (FMAP) funds are going down in Oklahoma while at the same time those enrolled in Medicaid are increasing or remaining the same. The rationale of the federal Medicaid matching formula is that if incomes in a state are going up fewer people in the state should need Medicaid. Therefore the federal government reduces its assistance to the state. In Oklahoma incomes are up so the federal match goes down. But the number of people enrolled in Medicaid is not going down, thereby adding to the state’s budget miseries. Why?

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Affordable Care Act open enrollment: What you need to know

by | November 2nd, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

Ah, fall: crunchy leaves on sidewalks, a hint of frost in the air, pumpkin spice everything… In other words, it’s time for open enrollment, the span between Nov. 1, 2015, and Jan. 31, 2016, when people can enroll in or change their private health insurance plans. This is a particularly good time for people who are currently uninsured but who are eligible for health insurance to get covered.

How do I enroll?

Oklahomans can shop around for and enroll in health insurance via Some other states built their own health insurance marketplaces, which is why your aunt in Kentucky got hers via kynect. In states like Oklahoma that declined to build their own marketplace, residents should enroll at There you’ll be asked to provide some basic information about the people you’re looking for coverage for, as well as your projected income for the next year.

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