In The Know: End of Insure Oklahoma means end of health insurance for many

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Insure Oklahoma clients say they are sad to see the program go away after state lawmakers refused to cooperate with changes requested by the federal government. NewsOK examined the plight of mentally ill Oklahomans, in a state that ranks 2nd in the nation for rates of mental illness but 46th for the amount money budgeted per capita for treatment. Sequestration budget cuts may force the federal public defender for the Tulsa and Muskogee areas to let one-third of her staff go.

Governor Fallin said she will push for requiring most new state employees to join a defined-contribution pension plan, and she vetoed a bill allowing employees to opt into defined contribution plan because she doesn’t think it should be voluntary. The Oklahoma editorial board writes that House Speaker T.W. Shannon has showed questionable ethics in using a loophole to avoid public scrutiny of certain conference committees. The director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management says adding a safe room to every school is doable. Oklahoma Watch shared a list of 85 Oklahoma schools that have safe rooms and how much they cost.

NewsOK examined how Millwood Elementary is struggling to overcome the challenges faced by a high-poverty student population. A probe by the State Department of Education found that no Jenks Public Schools employees were involved in a movement encouraging parents to opt their children out of extra tests the don’t count in grades of students or schools. A public records request by the Tulsa World found that the State Department of Education was researching ways to revoke teachers’ licenses of employees found to be involved.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank among the states for the number of major federal disaster declarations (44) since 1991. In today’s Policy Note, a preview of insurance premiums on the Washington D.C. health exchange shows a large range of options at reasonable prices.

In The News

End of Insure Oklahoma means end of health insurance for many

The way Jon Gordon looks at it, paying the health-insurance premium is almost as important as paying the mortgage – you just don’t skip it. “People get sick. Stuff happens,” said Gordon, a CNC machinist for APSCO, a Tulsa manufacturing company. “I am pretty healthy. I very rarely go to the doctor, but I’ve got people depending on me. It’s good to have a safety net.” That’s why news that he and about 30,000 other working Oklahomans will lose their Insure Oklahoma health-care subsidies at year’s end makes Gordon anxious. “Frankly, I’m kind of nervous,” Gordon said. A combination of political events means Insure Oklahoma will end Dec. 31.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Mental health in Oklahoma: ‘We turn people away every day who need help’

George’s psychiatrist used to tell his family members to lie to the doctors. “You have to lie and say he’s harmful to you,” the psychiatrist would tell them. Because when George was in the midst of a psychotic break, he could still fake sanity. Even if he thought he was Jesus Christ, he knew not to tell anyone that. “Especially when you’re grandiose, you have the ability to really pull some thoughts together,” George said. George and his family knew what would happen: If George wasn’t suicidal, he was going home. If he wasn’t going to hurt someone else, he was going home. Believing he was a savior didn’t merit a bed at a psychiatric unit.

Read more from NewsOK.

Federal budget cuts straining public defenders’ operations

The nation’s federal public defenders’ offices are being heavily affected by the country’s budget problems, and there’s good reason for people to care. “The Constitution guarantees that every citizen, without regard to personal wealth, will have a fair trial and a professional, competent advocate,” said Julia O’Connell, the federal public defender for the Tulsa-based Northern District of Oklahoma and the Muskogee-based Eastern District. That, however, is becoming increasingly challenging due to federal budget problems that have caused O’Connell to close the offices on Fridays and may compel her to let one-third of her staff go when the new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, she said.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Governor has plan for pension system changes

Most new state employees would no longer be included in Oklahoma’s traditional pension retirement plan under a proposal to be pushed next year by the governor. Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill this year that would have given new employees the choice of opting out of the traditional pension program in favor of a defined contributions plan. She felt the voluntary opt-out did not go far enough to improve the fiscal condition of the state’s pensions. “I didn’t think it would have an impact on the system because it’s voluntary,” Fallin said. Her veto was intended to send a message to the Republican-controlled Legislature, state Treasurer Ken Miller said.

Read more from NewsOK.

NewsOK: No good comes from return to old conference committee practices

For years, Oklahoma lawmakers used a secretive conference committee process to cut deals and unveil resulting legislation, with little time for public scrutiny and wide latitude for abuse. In 2011, House lawmakers implemented reforms that dramatically improved transparency. Now, under House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, the House is in a partial retreat from these reforms. This is unwarranted and could justify public skepticism of lawmakers’ ethics.

Read more from NewsOK.

Emergency management chief says adding a safe room to every school is “doable”

A safe room in every school? In the aftermath of the May 20 tornado, many state officials were saying it couldn’t be done. Albert Ashwood wasn’t among them. Ashwood is director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, a small state agency with a big responsibility: Since he took over in 1997, OEM has coordinated the state and federal response to 37 tornadoes, floods, wild fires, ice storms and other calamities deemed worthy of a presidential disaster declaration.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

See also: Schools with safe rooms and what they spent from Oklahoma Watch

Millwood Elementary seeks to overcome challenges for low-income students

It’s a little after 8 on a recent rainy morning as dozens of young Millwood Elementary students clad in maroon and white uniforms line up in the cafeteria for what might be their only nutritious meal of the day. It’s a problem all too common in Oklahoma, which ranks fourth among states in the percentage of public school students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty. In Oklahoma, about six out of 10 students qualify for the federally subsidized program. Only Mississippi, New Mexico and Louisiana have a higher percentage of eligibility, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The harsh reality of those numbers plays out at places like Millwood.

Read more from NewsOK.

We trust parents, except when we don’t

Today’s Tulsa World explains that the SDE’s probe into the tomfoolery in Jenks regarding parents opting out of field tests (tests that do not count for students or schools) has turned up nothing of substance. Rather, it began when a parent, local PTA president Deedra Barnes, decided that she didn’t think Jenks students needed to be “unpaid subjects by CTB/McGraw-Hill.” State Superintendent Janet Barresi believed that the parental opt-out movement was “orchestrated” by the principal. The SDE had even begun to explore ways to punish school officials who might have been involved.

Read more from okeducationtruths.

Quote of the Day

It facilitated insurance for a lot of people, and it was a great thing for business owners in Oklahoma. Quite frankly, I’m astonished that they’re getting rid of it.

-Tom Lettich of Catoosa, who said his now-closed disaster recovery business was able to offer health-care coverage to its employees only because of Insure Oklahoma. State lawmakers have chosen to close the program rather than cooperate with changes requested by the federal government (Source:

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank among the states for the number of major federal disaster declarations (44) since 1991 — including tornados, floods, and snow and ice storms.

Source: Stateline

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

D.C. offers a peek at the health insurance prices proposed for new exchange

In the first glimpse of what District residents and small business owners can expect to pay for health-care coverage under Obamacare, officials on Friday released a snapshot of the proposed plans from four major insurance companies. The nearly 300 insurance plans require approval from the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking before going on sale through a city-created exchange, but officials say a preliminary look reveals a large range of options at prices consistent with current rates. “I feel confident based on the preliminary information that the rates are very good,” said Mila Kofman, director of the District of Columbia Health Benefits Exchange. “There is absolutely no rate shock here.”

Read more from the Washington Post.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

2 thoughts on “In The Know: End of Insure Oklahoma means end of health insurance for many

    1. Cheryl – If the program expires at the end of 2013, current participants will no longer be covered through Insure Oklahoma. If you have income above 100 percent of the federal poverty level, you should be eligible for a premium tax credit that will subsidize purchase of private insurance through the new health insurance exchange. Unfortunately, if your income is less than 100% of poverty, it looks like you’ll be left without any options due to the state’s refusal to access federal funds to expand Medicaid.

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