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The doomsday scenario has already begun — but it can be stopped

by | November 13th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (2)

Twenty-five elderly Oklahomans lost their home early last week when Wynnewood Care Center closed

After taking years of reimbursement cuts and expecting more to come, the small skilled-nursing facility in Wynnewood had to shut down and move residents into other facilities in neighboring counties. 

Then on Thursday, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) voted to cut daily reimbursements to nursing homes, residential facilities housing people with intellectual disabilities, and nursing facilities for people with AIDS by 4 percent. They also voted to cut payments to most Medicaid providers by 9 percent. Unless lawmakers pass a budget deal that fills all or most of the $70 million hole in OHCA’s budget triggered when the state Supreme Court struck down an unconstitutional cigarette tax, these cuts will take effect on December 1. 

Similarly, although state-funded in-home care isn’t scheduled to expire until December 1, thousands of Oklahomans with disabilities and their caregivers are scrambling now to find alternatives. Nearly 189,000 Oklahomans who manage mental illness and addiction through state services are in a similar boat; nearly all outpatient service are scheduled to cease on December 1. While $23 million from the Rainy Day Fund may allow them to delay those cuts for a few weeks, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services still has a $50 million budget hole to contend with.  

If lawmakers can come to an agreement in time, these cuts can be stopped — but as Wynnewood’s closure shows, a lot of damage has already been done. 

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Oklahomans have from now until December 15 to get health insurance for 2018

by | November 1st, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

Photo via Healthcare.gov

This post is by OK Policy intern Lydia Lapidus. Lydia is a recent graduate from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs with a concentration in International Politics.

Fall is here, and the Healthcare.gov online marketplace is up and running with options that won’t eat into your pumpkin spice budget. This year’s shortened open enrollment period will span from November 1st to December 15th, 2017, with coverage beginning on January 1st. (Note: Members of a federally-recognized American Indian tribe are exempt from these deadlines and can enroll on HealthCare.gov at any time of the year.)

Whether you need to get insured, switch plans, or re-enroll, here is some information to help.

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Oklahoma’s Insurance Commissioner is preparing ​t​o undermine the people working to insure Oklahomans

by | September 28th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (2)

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak

Earlier this month, Oklahoma Insurance ​Commissioner John Doak testified before a U.S. Congressional Committee that he wants Congress to eliminate Navigators,​​ the community workers who help enroll people in health care under the Affordable Care Act​. Doak told Congress that he opposes these Navigators because they compete with private insurance agents and brokers.​

Now, Commissioner Doak is ordering Oklahoma Navigators ​to turn over their enrollment data to his agency. ​Doak’s rhetoric when making the request implies that he plans to use the data to argue that these workers are a waste of federal dollars. But ​in both the letter to Navigators and his testimony to Congress, Commissioner Doak is not telling the whole story.

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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 (6)

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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