In The Know: Oklahoma outsources Medicaid | Disparities in state vaccine rollout | 2021 session begins

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

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(Capitol Update) Confrontations between governor, legislature may continue over managed care proposal: For years, legislative sessions have slowed or ground to a halt for days or even weeks while leadership pounded out agreements between the House, Senate, and governor. But confrontation reached a high last session when budget negotiations terminated, legislators passed the state budget in the final weeks of session, and Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed the budget bill. The legislature overrode the budget veto plus several other measures. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma to outsource Medicaid care to four health insurance companies: Despite opposition from many of the state’s leading medical groups, Oklahoma will outsource care for most of the state’s Medicaid recipients to for-profit health care companies. Gov. Kevin Stitt and state health leaders announced Friday the Oklahoma Health Care Authority will contract with four companies to manage care for more than 700,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in what will be a major overhaul of Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. [The Oklahoman] Noting that Oklahoma currently has one of the worst health-outcome rankings in the country, Gov. Stitt insisted that these third-party managed care contracts would help turn that situation around. [NonDoc] Gov. Stitt has made partially privatizing Medicaid one of his administration’s top priorities. Using a policy called the managed care model, Oklahoma will begin paying private health insurance companies to coordinate much of the state’s Medicaid program, known as SoonerCare. [The Frontier and StateImact Oklahoma]

Point of View: On Medicaid, lessons unlearned in Oklahoma: The board of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state’s Medicaid agency that provides health insurance coverage for nearly 1 million low-income residents, voted last week to allow commercial managed care organizations to assume operation of the Medicaid program as early as this fall. … If managed care is of such great benefit, we might ask why it hasn’t been tried before. The answer is, it has — and it failed. [David Blatt / The Oklahoman]

Despite high marks in distribution, minorities lag in COVID-19 vaccine access in Oklahoma: Despite Oklahoma ranking near the top 10 in coronavirus vaccine distribution across the country, early data have shown disparities in who is getting the in-demand inoculations. In its most recent epidemiology and surveillance report, the Oklahoma State Department of Health demographic data indicated a lower rate of vaccinations among Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian groups than whites. [Tulsa World]

  • White House recognizes Oklahoma among top states for COVID vaccination [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Deaths underscore urgency of vaccination effort for Oklahoma City employees [The Oklahoman]
  • Health Department launches text message reminders about second vaccine dose [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahomans waiting in long lines for COVID-19 vaccinations in cold temps [KFOR]
  • Some OKC council members take COVID-19 vaccine; others defer [The Oklahoman]
  • Hospitalizations decline in Oklahoma but deaths mount [Oklahoma Watch]
  • COVID-19: 43 more deaths; 2,882 new cases in state [Tulsa World] | [AP News]
  • More than 1 million Oklahomans likely have COVID-19 antibodies, blood tests show [The Oklahoman]

Health News

At Oklahoma COVID ward, staff fight to prevent lonely deaths: The patient alarms ping constantly in the COVID-19 ward at a hospital in Oklahoma City, signaling to pulmonologist Dr. Syed Naqvi and the rest of the ICU team that yet another person needs help. The sheer volume is exhausting, Naqvi said, but the emotional toll is even more draining, given that each time he puts a patient on a ventilator he knows there is little chance that person will recover. [Reuters]

  • Video: ‘No one should die alone’ -Oklahoma COVID doctor [Reuters]

Oklahoma’s Native American nations step up to protect their own: For some Native American tribes in Oklahoma that have dealt with numerous historical injustices and neglect, the COVID-19 pandemic was not going to be another example. “It just came down to, if it was going to happen we had to do it ourselves,” said Dr. Adam Vascellaro, chief medical officer for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, located in Shawnee. [Gaylord News / The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Oklahoma lawmakers face tough issues in upcoming session: Oklahoma lawmakers returning Monday to the Capitol for the start of session face some daunting issues. One of the top issues will be funding Medicaid expansion. Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Kevin Corbett, who also serves as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s secretary of health and mental health, put the price tag at $164 million. [Tulsa World]

  • Legislative filings reveal lawmakers’ moods but not necessarily their direction [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma governor to deliver third State of the State speech [AP News] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Capitol Insider: Legislators to hear Governor’s agenda in State of the State Address [KGOU]
  • Don’t look now, but the Oklahoma Legislature is back [NonDoc]
  • Oklahoma 2021 Legislative Preview [Tulsa World]

For Oklahoma lawmakers, mask rules don’t apply: Oklahoma legislators will be strongly encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in the state Capitol during the upcoming legislative session. However, other state employees and visitors to the Capitol building are required to wear masks inside when social distancing is not possible. [The Oklahoman] The Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives on Friday issued COVID-19 protocols that include mask mandates for staff and visitors — but not for lawmakers. According to some reports, nearly half the House members did not wear masks during the chamber’s organizational day in early January. Several senators have filed legislation that would ban masks mandates. [Tulsa World] At least seven of the state’s 149 lawmakers and Gov. Kevin Stitt have tested positive for the coronavirus. [AP News]

Halfway Point: 11 days that define Gov. Kevin Stitt’s first two years: Gov. Kevin Stitt finds himself in much different times than when he took office just over two years ago. As the COVID-19 pandemic has loomed large over much of Stitt’s first term, unemployment is down, the state’s budget picture is shakier — but not quite as bad as some feared — and much work remains to be done to curb the virus that has already killed more than 3,420 Oklahomans in the last 9 months. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • Oklahoma governor seeks improved relations in third session [AP News]

Oklahoma lawmakers take aim at mental health issues amid pandemic: The Oklahoma legislative session is set to kick off on Monday. There will be different procedural changes thanks to COVID-19 at the Oklahoma Capitol, but there also will be a new focus on mental health thanks to the pandemic. [KFOR]

Can a pregnant woman be charged with child neglect in Oklahoma?: The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed for a second time that a mother can be charged with child neglect for illegal drug use during pregnancy. This time, judges also made clear that a father can be charged, too, for supplying the drugs. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Five criminal justice and corrections bills to watch this session: After a wide swath of rural and urban voters rejected State Question 805 last November, supporters of the sentencing reform ballot initiative vowed to regroup and turn their attention to the next legislative session. State lawmakers have introduced several dozen bills that could change how law enforcement agencies, courts and corrections systems operate. [Oklahoma Watch]

“He’s not a killer” says mother of teen accomplice in robbery: The shooting death of 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez by five Oklahoma City Police officers November 23 has spawned a murder charge for his accomplice in their attempted robbery that night. [OKC Free Press]

Economic Opportunity

Should city pay for tenants to have an attorney in eviction cases? Advocate says it would actually save Tulsa money: Ayear ago, the idea of granting attorney rights to tenants in eviction proceedings might not have gotten very far. Tulsa already had one of the highest eviction rates in the country, and local officials were discussing ways to address it. But the sense of urgency wasn’t the same, Michael Figgins said. [Tulsa World]

Outreach workers gather annual Point-in-Time count of Tulsans experiencing homelessness: David Bowman has been a go-getter all his life, and he prided himself on his can-do attitude until about a month ago. “I’ve never felt so helpless in all my life,” the former Army mechanic said in a gravelly voice, sitting before a chicken pot pie at the Tulsa Day Center on Thursday evening. [Tulsa World]

  • Annual OKC Homelessness Survey partially cancelled due to COVID-19 [KOSU]

Child care costs jump for industry, parents amid pandemic: Mandates and recommendations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have put a severe strain on child care centers across the country, increasing the average costs of taking care of children by 41%, and, in Oklahoma, the cost of doing business is even higher. [The Journal Record]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma farmers might see increased profits from crops this year: Oklahoma farmers might see an increased profit due to an increase in price for crops like wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans and grains. Kim Anderson, an Oklahoma State University extension economist, says the price of crops like wheat and corn have increased by about a dollar, and soybeans have seen about a $4 increase compared to last year. [KOSU]

Education News

More Oklahoma students returning to classroom amid pandemic: Amid the pandemic, students in fifth through 12th grades in Oklahoma City Public Schools are set to return to the classroom for in-person learning starting on Tuesday. [AP News]

  • Bus driver, sub teacher shortages plague schools [Enid News & Eagle]
  • TPS Superintendent, teachers and staff press for higher vaccine priority [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • The week in coveducation: A call for teacher vaccine prioritization [NonDoc]
  • COVD-19 forces Broken Arrow, Bixby campuses to shift to distance learning [Tulsa World]
  • State Board of Education signs off on tweaks to Oklahoma School Report Cards [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Several Tulsa area school districts with board primaries, bond packages to be decided next month [Tulsa World]

Controversial quarantine policy being adopted by some rural Oklahoma schools: A controversial policy waiving quarantines for students and school staff is gaining traction in some corners of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Department of Health and Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the new guidance Jan. 12 to allow students and staff to skip quarantine entirely. [The Oklahoman]

General News

An Oklahoma faith coalition knows you may not want to talk about white privilege, but they are hoping you will anyway: The Rev. Shannon Fleck knows the very mention of white privilege makes many people uncomfortable, and some angry. Fleck, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, said every time she discusses the topic on social media or at a public gathering, irate people, mainly white, send her hostile messages. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Cheat sheet: Four candidates on Edmond Schools ballot [NonDoc]
  • Cheat Sheet: Two challenge Stephen Holmen for Norman Ward 7 [NonDoc]
  • City of Tulsa merging several authorities into 1 development entity [Public Radio Tulsa]

Quote of the Day

“Pushed by the governor, OHCA seems ready to end a cost-efficient model of health care delivery that fits Oklahoma well and return us to an HMO model that failed once already. Legislators should step in to make sure that the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated.”

–David Blatt, George Kaiser Family Foundation Professor of Practice at the University of Oklahoma and former director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, warning against the implementation of managed care in Oklahoma’s Medicaid system. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Number of Black legislators currently serving in the Oklahoma House and Senate.

[Source: Governing]

Policy Note

Origins of Black History Month: The story of Black History Month begins in Chicago during the summer of 1915. An alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city, Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois. Thousands of African Americans travelled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the destruction of slavery. [ASALH]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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