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Extended family leave for new parents would boost economy while addressing some of Oklahoma’s worst health rankings

Too many Oklahoma parents face an impossible choice – continue to work full-time and miss precious opportunities to bond with a new child, or leave work and put their finances and career at risk. Oklahomans shouldn’t face this choice.  New parents should be able to take leave to bond with and care for a new child without putting their family’s future at risk.

Senate Bill 549, which has passed the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow in the House Business, Commerce, and Tourism Committee, is a good first step in the modernization of family leave in Oklahoma. [UPDATE: SB 549 passed committee with a 14-0 vote and will next go to the full House.] Under federal law, most American workers are allowed 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, and several states have provided further paid or unpaid leave. SB 549 would extend that to 20 weeks of unpaid leave for Oklahoma’s state employees.

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SB 478​ would roll back autism coverage, allow worthless plans disguised as insurance​

by | April 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (2)

For years, families caring for ​children with autism fought for a state law that would require insurers to cover the necessary treatments for their child. Last year, with the passage of HB 2962, Oklahoma became the 44th state to require meaningful autism coverage with HB 2962. Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City), the bill’s author, called it a “life-changing law” and said he was “happy to have played a small part in helping these families access the vital autism therapies and treatments their children need.” 

That was then. This year, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would undo that hard fought victory, and bring many other bad consequences for Oklahomans who need health care. SB 478 by Sen. Bill Brown (R-Broken Arrow) and Rep. Lewis Moore (R-Arcadia) would exempt insurers from all state mandates on their product, including autism coverage. By allowing both in- and out-of-state insurers to sell coverage that doesn’t comply with Oklahoma’s required insurance benefits, SB 478 would leave Oklahoma enrollees exposed to significant risk while increasing the costs and premiums for families who need or want more comprehensive coverage. Here’s how.

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DHS Director: Oklahoma budget cut scenarios range “from the terrible to the unthinkable”

OKDHS Director Ed Lake

Unless lawmakers find new revenues to close their budget shortfall, Oklahoma is looking at unprecedented cuts to the most basic services of state government, including those for the most vulnerable seniors, children, and people with disabilities. Even before next year’s budget, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) will run out of money in May to pay for in-home care of 25,000 seniors and individuals with severe disabilities unless the Legislature acts quickly to provide supplemental funds.

Yesterday, OKDHS Director Ed Lake sent a message to all employees of the agency stating that further cuts would threaten the elimination of entire programs serving very vulnerable adults and children. The cuts could even undo the progress made under court order to improve our child welfare system. Here is Director Lake’s message in full:

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Oklahoma DHS is about to run out of money to pay for care of vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities

by | March 22nd, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (8)

There are honest arguments and discussions to be had about the place and role of government. However, we generally agree that the government has an important role in protecting the lives and health of Americans who aren’t able to protect themselves, including those who are elderly or have significant disabilities.

However, in Oklahoma, years of budget cuts have now compromised our Department of Human Services’ ability to fulfill this core function of government. As a result, thousands of Oklahomans who are elderly or have disabilities could lose access to vital services in just a few months. Without a supplemental appropriation, DHS doesn’t have the funds to pay providers for the care of more than 25,000 Oklahomans after April.

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House Republican health bill would devastate Oklahomans’ access to care

by | March 20th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (2)

This post has been updated to reflect amendments released on March 20.

Congressional Republicans finally have the opportunity to make good on their longstanding promise to repeal and replace the health law. In campaign rhetoric, they promised they could bring better, more affordable health care to Americans. Unfortunately, the replacement they’ve developed, known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA), doesn’t live up to that rhetoric. In reality, it would decimate historic health coverage gains in Oklahoma, leave the state on the hook for millions in Medicaid funding, and effectively double the uninsured rate by 2026. Here’s how.

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OK PolicyCast Episode 26: The GOP Health Plan

by | March 14th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Podcast | Comments (0)

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

We speak with OK Policy health care analyst Carly Putnam about the new plan from the House GOP to replace the Affordable Care Act. We talk about how the bill does and doesn’t change the Affordable Care Act, what chance it has to pass, and how it could affect Oklahomans’ health care.

You can subscribe at the links above, download the podcast here, or play it in your browser:

The politics of revenue raising matters for health care and teachers (Capitol Update)

by | February 24th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education, 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.

There are couple of big issues starting their trek through the legislative process, and the way they ultimately get handled will affect the state’s long-range structural challenges. The first challenge concerns raising the cigarette tax and dedicating the proceeds to health care agencies. In the last several years, legislative and executive leaders have blamed the general revenue shortfall on too many revenue sources being taken “off the top” for some specific purpose, thus never reaching the general revenue fund.

The current cigarette tax proposal increases the tax by $1.50 per pack and specifically directs where the money must be spent. This is the same as taking it off the top. The only difference is the revenue goes to the general revenue fund, but it is required by law to be spent for a specific purpose. This limits the flexibility of future legislatures to appropriate the money where it may be more urgently needed without changing the law.

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Even doctors depend on the Affordable Care Act (Guest post: Sabine Brown)

by | February 21st, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (1)

Sabine Brown is a political activist, physician assistant, and mother of two.

One in three Oklahomans have a pre-existing condition that could have been used to deny them health insurance coverage prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). My husband, Eric, is one of those Oklahomans.

When my husband was a small child, he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. He was treated at St. Jude’s hospital in Memphis. Although his treatments and back and forth trips from Oklahoma City were rough, he has good memories of the staff that took care of him. One memory that stuck with him is a doctor who wrote an order for him to have pizza every day when that was the only food he would tolerate during chemotherapy treatments. The experience ultimately inspired him to become a doctor himself.

Eric started medical school in 2003, which coincided with the time he could no longer be on his parent’s insurance plan. He started filling our applications for private insurance. The rejections letters rolled in. No one would accept him because of his previous cancer diagnosis.

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Don’t go there: Block grants for Medicaid and SNAP could wreck America’s safety net

by | February 7th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

A fundamental part of the American social contract is that when times get tough, we help our friends and neighbors out. In Oklahoma, the biggest ways that we do this is through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and SoonerCare, Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. Each of these programs help hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans get on their feet and stay there every year.

However, Congressional Republicans are pushing to end these programs and replace them with block grants in order to cut federal spending, possibly by as early as this summer. Block grants would threaten to dismantle effective, efficient anti-poverty programs and leave Oklahoma families without access to adequate food or medical care.

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New issue brief assesses benefits of increasing access to long-acting reversible contraceptives

by | January 25th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

The decision of when and whether to have children is one of the most consequential choices a family can make. When better able to plan pregnancies and births, women attain more education, earn higher incomes, and have stronger marriages.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s unplanned and teen pregnancy rate is among the highest in the country – and that presents a number of challenging outcomes, including high costs, for individuals, families, and communities.

​A new issue brief from Oklahoma Policy Institute assesses a promising pilot project that is showing success in preventing teen pregnancy. ​Tulsa’s Take Control Initiative has shown that long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) are a smart option for Oklahoma women and teens. The Take Control Initiative has proven effective in reducing Tulsa County’s teen birth rate, and initiatives across the country show similar outcomes. As one of the most effective forms of birth control, greater LARC use has been a key element in reducing unintended pregnancies across the US.

LARC’s effectiveness​ strongly demonstrates why Oklahoma and the U.S. should continue policies requiring insurers to provide access to this treatment at no cost ​to patients. Despite recent, relative increases, LARC use is still relatively low compared to other, less-effective forms of birth control, and Oklahoma’s teen pregnancy rate is one of the highest in the country. This points to the need for continued efforts to protect and expand access to LARC throughout Oklahoma. Oklahoma families deserve nothing less.

You can read the full report here.

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