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How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws?

by | September 20th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Photo by Chuck Coker

Next year, Oklahomans will vote on State Question 788, a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. As of 2017, 29 states have approved measures legalizing the drug for medical purposes. We often think of legalization in binary terms — either medical marijuana is allowed, or it isn’t — but in practice, the systems put in place by those 29 states to regulate the drug vary greatly. Each state has many choices to make about how patients can be prescribed marijuana, how much they can have, and where they get it from. Some states choose permissive systems that lead to higher numbers of patients and dispensaries; other states restrict prescriptions to people with specified conditions and few or no dispensaries.

In contrast with the states that left the design of most of those regulations to state agencies, the language of SQ 788 is specific on many details. It would put in place laws that decide how a person applies for and receives a license to use medical marijuana; the quantities that a license holder can possess; the qualifications and licensing process for retailers, growers, processors, and transporters; and the tax rate and distribution of revenue from sales. When compared to other systems, SQ 788 would put in place a system that is on the permissive side, but well within the current spectrum of laws.

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New Census data shows Oklahoma fell further behind the U.S. on poverty and uninsured rate in 2016

by | September 14th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

New Census data shows the percentage of families living in poverty in Oklahoma increased in 2016, even as the national poverty rate declined to its lowest point since 2008. In 2016, almost one out of six Oklahomans (16.3 percent) were making less than the poverty line ($24,230 a year for a family of four) before taxes. About 9,500 more Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty line in 2016 than in 2015.

Oklahoma’s poverty rate increased even as the poverty rate for the United States as a whole fell to 14.0 percent. These national improvements widened the gap between Oklahoma and the U.S. as a whole. Oklahoma’s poverty rate in 2016 was 9th highest out of all 50 states.

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Loss of federal prevention funds will lead to more unintended teen pregnancies

by | September 11th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (1)

If we want to make sure every Oklahoman has the chance to become a productive, healthy adult, then preventing teen pregnancies is one of the most important things we can do. While some teen mothers and their children manage to beat the odds, giving birth before completing one’s education and being prepared to parent greatly increases the likelihood of being trapped in a cycle of misfortune.

Research finds that only about 50 percent of women who become teenage mothers earn a high school diploma by age 22 and only around 10 percent will graduate from college. Two in five mothers who give birth before age 20 are living in poverty within the first year of their child’s birth. The children of teen parents have a higher risk for low birth weight and infant mortality, have lower school achievement and more behavioral problems, and are more likely  to be incarcerated at some time during adolescence.

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Oklahoma has an ambitious plan to bring health insurance premiums down. Here’s how.

by | August 21st, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (4)

Last year, health care premiums in Oklahoma for policies offered on Healthcare.gov by the state’s lone remaining nongroup insurer soared by more than 70 percent, the highest increase that year. In response, the state is now poised to use the Affordable Care Act to develop a reinsurance program that is expected to decrease premiums by more than 30 percent in the first year while restraining future premium growth, bringing more lives into the market, and shielding insurers from higher medical expenses. Indeed, Oklahoma’s ambitious reinsurance proposal is the state’s first real effort at engaging meaningfully with the Affordable Care Act. Here’s how it will work. 

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It’s time to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma

by | August 9th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (2)

At long last, it appears that the Affordable Care Act will remain the law of the land. Efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have fallen apart over deep and fundamental schisms around health care within the Republican party, particularly where Medicaid is concerned. With the ACA and the coverage it provides shifted out of the political spotlight, it’s time for Oklahoma leaders to deal with the law as it is and work within it to improve health care coverage and outcomes for Oklahomans. One way they can do this is by expanding Medicaid coverage. 

This opportunity couldn’t come at a better time. After years of shrinking revenues and subsequent budget cuts, we are very close to being unable to fund core functions of government. At the same time, our uninsured rate remains stubbornly high, threatening families’ financial security and putting pressure on overburdened safety net providers. However, lawmakers have an opportunity to address both problems at once by bringing accessible, affordable health coverage to more than 160,000 Oklahomans.

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The table is set to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma (Capitol Updates)

by | August 4th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, 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.

Years ago, when I was in the legislature, I was accused by an editor of one of my local newspapers of being a Pollyanna. Since then I’ve tried to curb the tendency to sometimes be overly optimistic. But, alas, I’m going to succumb to that tendency this week and suggest that last session’s budget, described as a lemon even by those who wrote it, provides the opportunity for lemonade.

Last session, as we all know by now, the Legislature and governor created a potential constitutional crisis by passing several bills by legally questionable methods. For the second straight year, Republicans found their caucus divided and unable to produce enough votes to safely pass needed revenue measures. In the waning days of the session they turned to Democrats for help. Democrats were anxious to bring both their votes and their ideas to the table, but the two parties could not get together. The result was the stop-gap, inadequate budget that even the most apathetic citizen can recognize as unworkable.

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Attempts to repeal Affordable Care Act put Oklahoma patients in jeopardy (Guest post: Teresa Huggins)

by | July 26th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (2)

Teresa Huggins is CEO of Stigler Health and Wellness Center in eastern Oklahoma.

Teresa Huggins

Being raised in small town, rural Oklahoma comes with its benefits.  Among those benefits are the close friendships, supports and cohesiveness of knowing everyone; however, many communities face extreme poverty and lack access to basic medical care, not to mention specialty care for the diverse needs and populations that reside in the rural landscapes of Oklahoma.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted to help ensure that Americans are able to access affordable health care, regardless of their residence or income status.  Millions have gained coverage through the ACA, and the law is helping shift the health care industry toward more preventive care instead of waiting to address health issues until something has gone seriously wrong.  In part thanks to the ACA, our health center has experienced a drop in uninsured patients, from 26 percent in 2013 to 19 percent in 2016.  Many of the patients newly enrolled in insurance may not have received care if not for the ACA.  Our health center has helped 2,749 patients obtain insurance, many through the individual marketplace created under the ACA. These patients will certainly be in jeopardy of becoming uninsured again if the ACA is repealed.

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New Senate health care draft does not fix bill’s core problems and makes some of them worse

by | July 17th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

Last week, Senate Republican leaders released a “new” version of their health care bill. We wrote before about how the first draft of this bill would make Americans pay more for worse health coverage and how it would undercut the health care safety net. Unfortunately, the new draft does not fix the original Senate bill’s core problems and makes some of them worse.

The Senate bill would drastically cut Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, SoonerCare, reducing federal support an estimated 26 percent by 2026, with larger cuts to come as health care costs grow. Oklahoma would have to make up the difference either by raising taxes or cutting services for the hundreds of thousands of low-income people with disabilities, seniors, and families with children who rely on SoonerCare. These cuts would also threaten thousands of jobs in the state, since health care is Oklahoma’s largest employment sector and 25 percent of those jobs are supported by Medicaid.

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Under health care bill, many could lose coverage to pay for tax cuts for a few (Capitol Update)

by | July 7th, 2017 | Posted in 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.

Most of the action last week seemed to come from the federal level, and it was focused primarily on the health care debate. Well, as much as it was focused at all. There seems to be a consensus that changes in the Affordable Care Act are necessary to keep health care insurance companies in business and profitable at a premium rate that Americans can afford to pay. While some think the answer is a single-payer system, it’s fair to say we are at least one election away, probably more, from serious consideration of that idea. In the meantime, we will likely go through several variations of private/public insurance.

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Health care is increasingly central to Oklahoma’s economy

by | July 5th, 2017 | Posted in Economy, Healthcare | Comments (0)

If you ask a person on the street what Oklahoma’s economy is known for, two industries likely to come to mind are oil and gas drilling and agriculture. Yet when we look at the jobs Oklahomans are working in today, those industries play a much smaller role than that common understanding might assume.

Agricultural jobs almost vanished in the 1990s and never came back, and today the industry is barely more than one percent of the state’s GDP. Oil and gas mining still makes up a sizable portion of the state GDP, and that sector provides a large segment of Oklahoma’s highest-paying jobs. However, when you look at what the average worker is doing to make a living in Oklahoma, oil and gas jobs aren’t in the top ten.

In those top ten sectors, the big story since the turn of the century for Oklahoma workers has nothing to do with the ups and downs of oil and gas. Instead, the most important trend for workers has been the steady rise of jobs in health care.

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