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 in deciding against expanding Medicaid in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin rejected an estimated $3.6 billion in federal funding over seven years. Dr. John Schumann wrote an open letter to Governor Fallin expressing disappointment with the decision, and Kurt Hochenauer explained why the decision is terribly wrong for Oklahoma. To contact Governor Fallin and legislative leaders about the Medicaid choice, OK Policy created an online letter with sample language.

In 2009, 83 percent of drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma were attributed to prescription drugs and 17 percent of the overdoses related to street drugs. Oklahoma has reduced its preterm birth rate to the lowest mark in five years but still received a grade of D on a recent report card from the March of Dimes.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a planned $25 million bond issue to improve the Zink Lake dam on the Arkansas River is unconstitutional. The court also tossed out a lawsuit challenging a state scholarship program that uses public education funds to help send special-needs children to private schools. An appeals court overturned an Oklahoma County judge’s refusal to allow a transgender Oklahoman to change her name.

Oklahoma’s jobless rate rose slightly for the fourth straight month, climbing to 5.3 percent in October. Urban Tulsa Weekly discussed economic difficulties facing poor and middle-class Oklahomans. OK Policy previously shared a report showing rising inequality in Oklahoma as lower- and middle-class incomes stagnate. The Tulsa World discussed delays by the state Department of Education that are keeping funds from high-poverty schools.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally for Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s margin of victory over incumbent President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election. In today’s Policy Note, Demos examines how the continued dominance of low wages in the retail sector weakens our living standards and economic growth.

In The News

Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision against Medicaid expansion rejects billions in federal aid

In deciding against expanding Medicaid in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin rejected an estimated $3.6 billion in federal funding over seven years, along with the argument that the additional money would generate jobs while improving the health of the poor. The governor’s office is already anticipating much higher Medicaid bills beginning in 2014 because the health care law’s individual mandate, the requirement that most people have health coverage, is expected to increase enrollment of thousands of Oklahomans who are currently eligible for the program but not participating. In fact, the costs associated with those people make up more than half of the $475 million in additional state obligations cited by Fallin on Monday when she announced her decision not to expand Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 200,000 uninsured adults.

Read more from NewsOK.

An open letter to Governor Mary Fallin

I am extremely disappointed with the decision declining Oklahoma’s participation in the expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare. As a practicing physician and medical educator, I see the impact of ‘uninsurance’ on low income, chronically ill Oklahomans every day. Options for these folks are few. Since they aren’t moneyed, and struggle to get by in every sense, they aren’t well-represented at the ballot box. The decision not to participate in a broadening of the safety net is morally, financially, and medically wrong.

Read more from GlassHospital.

Fallin decision on the Medicaid expansion is terribly wrong for Oklahoma

No matter how much political cover Gov. Mary Fallin seeks on the issue from her fellow Republican governors, her decision to reject an expansion of Medicaid in our state is a cruel decision, leaving thousands of low-income Oklahomans without health insurance. That, in turn, will mean many low-income Oklahomans will avoid seeking medical help for developing illnesses, causing needless suffering and even death. The Oklahoma Policy Institute has estimated Fallin’s decision could leave approximately 150,000 low-income Oklahoma residents without health insurance.

Read more from Okie Funk.

See also: Take Action on Medicaid Expansion from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Prescription drug abuse reaches epidemic proportions in Oklahoma

Five years after being lauded for establishing one of the first Prescription Monitoring Programs in the nation, Oklahoma recently garnered another distinction. The state is second only to Alabama in the highest use of prescription painkillers, according to a pharmacy benefit-management firm called Express Scripts And painkiller abuse in the state is having lethal consequences. In 2009, 83 percent of drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma were attributed to prescription drugs as compared to 17 percent of the overdoses related to street drugs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.2 million emergency room visits in Oklahoma that year were related to the misuse or abuse of prescription drugs, an increase of 98 percent since 2004.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Oklahoma gets ‘D’ for preterm birth rate

Oklahoma has reduced its preterm birth rate to the lowest mark in five years but still received a grade of D on a recent report card from the March of Dimes. In 2011, Oklahoma had a preterm birth rate of 13.2 percent, a decrease from 13.9 percent in 2010. The national rate is 11.7 percent, which is the lowest in a decade. The grade given to each state is based on the March of Dimes 2020 goal of 9.6 percent. Dr. Lisa Owens, medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Peggy V. Helmerich Women’s Health Center, said health and socioeconomic factors lead to Oklahoma’s relatively high premature birth rate.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma Supreme Court nixes Zink Lake dam bond issue

The Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that a planned $25 million bond issue to improve the Zink Lake dam on the Arkansas River is unconstitutional. “The proponents of the bonds go to great lengths to attempt to show that the bond issues will provide the state of Oklahoma not only with economic benefits, but cultural and ecological benefits as well,” the decision written by Justice Yvonne Kauger says. “In reality, the bonds appear to be nothing more than a gift to the city of Tulsa and surrounding communities from the state.” Such a gift is specifically prohibited by the state constitution, so the bond financing is not legal, the court found. This marks the second time the high court has blocked state bond financing for Arkansas River projects in Tulsa County.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Supreme Court rejects lawsuit over private school vouchers

The Oklahoma Supreme Court tossed out a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a state scholarship program that uses public education funds to help send special-needs children to private schools. The head of public schools in Oklahoma called it a victory for education choice in the state, while the two complaining school districts said they will regroup and decide whether to continue to challenge the program. The high court voted 7-2 that the Jenks and Union public school districts lacked standing to challenge the Lindsey Nichole Henry scholarship program for students with disabilities.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma appeals court orders name change in transgender case

More than 16 months after asking for a name change, Steven Charles Harvey will be allowed to switch to Christie Ann Harvey. Ruling in a transgender case, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals on Tuesday ordered a judge to grant the name change. The appeals court ruled Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves was wrong to deny the name change last year. “The trial court’s finding that Harvey sought a name change for an illegal or fraudulent purpose is not supported by the evidence,” the appeals court wrote. Harvey, who lives both in Oklahoma City and New Mexico, asked for the name change last year, before having gender reassignment surgery Dec. 1. Graves, a former Republican legislator, denied the request.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma jobless rate continues slow upward creep

Oklahoma’s jobless rate rose for the fourth straight month, climbing to 5.3 percent in October, according to information released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. October’s rate increased from 5.2 percent in September. A year ago at the same time, the state’s rate was 6.3 percent. “This isn’t a huge move … so it doesn’t necessarily give me any kind of heartburn about what is going on,” said Steve Agee, dean of Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business. “I think most of that is attributed to the increase in the labor force, and so that is a good sign.”

Read more from the Tulsa World.

What have we to be grateful for?

As we prepare to dive into our Thanksgiving feast, let us pause momentarily to consider an inconvenient truth. These are not prosperous economic times for the poor and middle-class, even in what is often proclaimed as recession-proof Oklahoma. You wouldn’t necessarily know it by reading most of the state’s daily rags, reliable heralds of Chamber of Commerce-style, ain’t-life-grand spin. Or by listening to state leaders, trumpeting growth in general revenue collections as absolute proof of their fiscal wizardry. Instead, consider the word of experts without dogs in the PR hunt: the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. They just released a new report showing incomes for poor and middle-class Oklahoma families have stagnated since the late 1990s. So … where did nearly all the growth go? To the state’s wealthiest households.

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

Previously: Rising inequality as lower- and middle-class incomes stagnate from the OK Policy Blog

State department no help, again

Schools with the highest percentages of children from low-income families receive federal Title I funds that help ensure that all children meet state academic standards based on standardized tests. Some of the Title I funds are set aside to pay for interventions at sites identified by the state as “priority” (lowest-performing) or “focus” (greatest academic achievement gaps) schools. Unfortunately state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s Department of Education has not released the official “priority” and “focus” designations that schools such as Tulsa’s McKinley Elementary must have in order to receive the federal funds set aside to help them. McKinley, which is ranked among the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state, planned to offer research-based instructional interventions and three extra hours a week of after-school help for struggling students. But it can’t do that because the funds are tied up by the state department.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

The majority of those earning between 133-400% of the Federal poverty level are working—without any safety net. They constitute ‘the working poor.’ They are not, as some suggest, “freeloaders.” Quite simply, those with Medicaid attain better health. The data proves it. Your alternative ‘plan’ of doing more of the same strikes me as both mean-spirited and inhumane to your fellow Oklahomans—whether they voted for you or not.

Dr. John Schumann, an Oklahoma physician and medical educator, writing an open letter to Governor Fallin

Number of the Day

3rd

Oklahoma’s rank nationally for Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s margin of victory over incumbent President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election, winning the state by 33.5 percentage points

Source: FiveThirtyEight

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Retail’s Hidden Potential: How raising wages would benefit workers, the industry and the overall economy

With more than 15 million workers in in the sector, and leverage over workplace standards across the supply chain, retail wields enormous influence on Americans’ standard of living and the nation’s economic outlook. It connects producers and consumers, workers and jobs, and local social and economic development to the larger US economy. And over the next decade, retail will be the second largest source of new jobs in the United States. Given the vital role retail plays in our economy, the question of whether employees in the sector are compensated at a level that promotes American prosperity is of national importance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical retail sales person earns just $21,000 per year. Cashiers earn even less, bringing home an annual income of just $18,500. The continued dominance of low wages in this sector weakens our nation’s capacity to boost living standards and economic growth.

Read more from Demos.

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