In The Know: Uninsured Oklahomans tell their stories

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 Oklahoma Watch told the stories of five uninsured Oklahomans who will gain new access to health care through the Affordable Care Act marketplace opening for enrollment in 8 days. NewsOK reported on how Oklahomans are weighing their options about enrolling in the marketplace and why sick Oklahomans are welcoming the new coverage alternatives. Sen. Tom Coburn said his Republican colleagues who are pushing to defund Obamacare aren’t facing the political reality that they’re going to lose.

Because Oklahoma still refuses to accept federal funds to provide insurance to the state’s poorest residents, more than 150,000 people will likely remain uninsured after the health law takes effect. Leaders of the Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and State Chambers of Commerce wrote in the Tulsa World that Oklahoma should expand Insure Oklahoma to cover these residents. Small businesses in Oklahoma will be able to receive tax credits for buying insurance for their employees on the marketplace.

A national report revealed that Oklahoma’s private prison contracts include very high “lockup quotas” that force taxpayers to pay a large penalty if the private prisons aren’t filled. Two vacant Oklahoma private prisons are taking steps to reopen. Federal budget cuts are forcing layoffs and furloughs for Oklahoma’s public defenders. A survey conducted by Sooner Poll found that large majorities of Oklahomans support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and treatment instead of prison.

OK Policy analyst Gene Perry wrote an op-ed for the Oklahoman on how severe education funding cuts are threatening Oklahoma’s future. The Tulsa World reported that services for the poor in Oklahoma remain in high demand. In today’s Policy Note, Demos discusses how Congressional Republicans are trying to slash one of America’s most effective poverty-fighting programs at a time when poverty is at record highs. The Number of the Day is how many Oklahomans received benefits from state and local government pension plans in 2009.

In The News

Faces of the uninsured: Oklahomans weigh their options on the health care marketplace

Hugh Meade hopes he can find a health plan that costs less than his home mortgage. Katie Bolin is looking for an insurer who won’t turn her down for pre-existing conditions. Ricardo Lopez Jr. wants coverage so he can stop going to free clinics. Meade, Bolin and Lopez are among several hundred thousand uninsured Oklahomans whose lives could change when the next phase of the Affordable Care Act takes effect. Starting Oct. 1, Oklahomans can begin applying for private-market policies through a new federally-operated online health insurance marketplace. The policies will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

See also: Q&A: Health Care Marketplace from Oklahoma Watch

The personal choices of health care

Kim Pearce was so close to canceling her family’s insurance policy. It’s still scary to think how close. Because, in one week, her son had four doctor’s visits, a trip to the emergency room and a $16,000 emergency flight from Stillwater to Tulsa. “For whatever reason, I think it was definitely a God thing that we did not cancel that policy, because within two weeks of moving here, you end up on that helicopter,” Pearce said. This experience taught Pearce that the insurance premium must always be paid. No bargaining allowed. Whether her family will have insurance is not an option, but what they have to pay for that insurance is. Pearce and her husband are among thousands of Oklahomans who might enroll in an insurance plan through the health care marketplace.

Read more from NewsOK.

Sick Oklahomans welcome new coverage alternatives

Soon after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010, Cheryl Martin’s husband asked her to start looking for a health insurance policy that would cover them both. Neither had insurance. While their three children were growing up, he’d traveled nationwide as a contractor to oversee the construction of compressor stations for transporting natural gas. She minded the home fronts in Lamar and now Bartlesville. Martin found coverage for her husband but, because of a stent in her heart, she was turned down.

Read more from NewsOK.

Sen. Coburn says Republicans pushing to defund Obamacare are not based in the real world

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said his Republican colleagues who are pushing to defund Obamacare — even if it means risking a government shutdown — aren’t facing the “political reality” that they’re going to lose. “Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we do not have the political power to do this,” Coburn said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We’re not about to shut the government down over the fact that we cannot, only controlling one house of Congress, tell the president that we’re not going to fund any portion of this. Because we can’t do that.”

Read more from the Huffington Post.

Thousands of Oklahomans will remain uninsured after Affordable Care Act takes effect

More than 150,000 people will likely remain uninsured in Oklahoma after the new health-care law takes effect because they fall into a gap between the program and two existing state programs, records show. These 150,122 people fall into a gap created by Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to reject a Medicaid expansion under the law and by rules for existing programs. The figure comes from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s latest data that tracks insurance status by income level. John Silva, CEO of Morton Comprehensive Health Services Inc., said he believes the Affordable Care Act will improve the health of the state, which ranks high nationally in the number of uninsured. “It will have a positive impact, but then it begs the question – what about the other people who don’t have access?” he said.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Business leaders: Insure Oklahoma deserves longer life

In an age when the only news relating to health care seems to be bad news, Insure Oklahoma has been a shining example of an effective public-private partnership. Combining employer, individual, state and federal funds, Insure Oklahoma leverages all available resources to provide some relief to Oklahoma’s uninsured population. As it stands, nearly 700,000 hard-working Oklahomans lack health insurance coverage. The vast majority of these individuals are often employed by small businesses that are unable to afford coverage for their employees.

Read more from NewsOK.

Small businesses in Oklahoma can enjoy tax credits for buying insurance in the SHOP marketplace

Q: Are employers required to use the new business marketplace to buy insurance? A: No. The federal law specifically states businesses aren’t required to buy insurance through the SHOP (Small-business Health Options Program) and can continue to buy health insurance through an insurance agent or broker, as they do today. Q: Are there reasons a small business employer might use SHOP? A: Yes. Small group employers with 25 or fewer employees (with an average wage of less than $50,000 a year) may be eligible for tax credits. The tax credit will cover up to 50 percent of the employer’s cost (up to 35 percent for small nonprofit organizations) and is available for the first two years an employer offers coverage through a state exchange.

Read more from NewsOK.

Report: Lockup quotas in prisons become low-crime taxes

A national report released Thursday details how private prison operators frequently have “lockup quotas” and “low-crime taxes” built into the language of their contracts. The report by In the Public Interest, a nonprofit research and policy institute, illustrates how many contracts for private prison operators feature language guaranteeing 80 percent to 100 percent prison occupancy and forcing taxpayers to pay penalties for empty beds. Three of the Oklahoma prisons included in the data – Cimarron in Cushing, Davis in Holdenville and the Lawton Correctional Facility – have a 98 percent occupancy guarantee provision, according to the report.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Vacant private prisons in Oklahoma may re-open

Two vacant Oklahoma private prisons, in Watonga and Hinton, may be close to re-opening. The companies that operate the Diamondback Correctional Facility in Watonga and the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Hinton have posted job openings or are holding job fairs to staff the prisons. However, details about when the facilities could re-open and where inmates would come from are unclear. The prisons are the only vacant private prisons in the state, among six in total. Robert Spencer, a Watonga city councilman, said city officials have been told by Corrections Corporation of America, which owns the Diamondback facility, that the company is hiring 400 workers for the prison in preparation for a new contract.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Federal budget cuts mean layoffs, furloughs for Oklahoma public defenders

Budget cuts have forced federal public defenders to send more cases to private attorneys, boosting government costs. Oklahoma’s two federal public defender offices handle cases in the state’s federal district courts. The offices have had to take furlough days and are expected to have to lay off some employees within the next month. And with at least 10 percent cuts to their 2014 budgets expected, they will continue working under strained circumstances for the foreseeable future.

Read more from NewsOK.

Poll: Oklahomans ready for marijuana law reform

Oklahoma NORML Friday released survey results from a Sooner Poll showing strong support for medical marijuana and majority support for marijuana decriminalization. The poll had support for medical marijuana at 71% and support for decriminalization at 57%. The poll did not ask about legalization. The poll of registered voters was conducted between August 28 and September 9. The margin of error is +/- 4.9%. If someone is going to be arrested for a marijuana offense, nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they should be treated instead of jailed. Under current Oklahoma law, possession of any amount can earn one up to a year in jail for a first offense and from two to 10 years for a second offense. Marijuana sales—of any amount—can earn a sentence of up to life in prison.

Read more from

Severe cuts to education threaten Oklahoma’s future

A recent report on state funding of K-12 education brought disturbing news. The report, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, shows that in real dollars, Oklahoma’s funding for schools has shrunk nearly 23 percent, or by $810 per student, since 2008. That’s a deeper cut than any other state in the nation. At the other end is North Dakota, which actually boosted education funding by more than 27 percent over the same period. The economies of Oklahoma and North Dakota share some similarities. Both have had relatively low unemployment. Both benefitted from an energy boom spurred by new drilling technologies. The difference is that North Dakota used this prosperity to invest in its children. Oklahoma has not.

Read more from NewsOK.

Services to help poor in Oklahoma in demand as number living in poverty remains high

Waiting in the lobby of a food pantry west of downtown Tulsa, Patricia Bradford said the canned food and chicken thighs she’s picking up will help her family make it through another difficult month. Bradford, 62, said just knowing she can come to the Neighbors Along the Line pantry a few miles from her home is a relief from her worries. Bradford’s daughter and her daughter’s fiance lost their jobs about eight months ago and had to move back home with their two children. The number of families such as Bradford’s living in poverty in the Tulsa area increased from 2011 to 2012, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

I’ve done physical, hard labor almost all of my working life. I can feel it every day when I get up. My back hurts, my leg hurts, my hands… What I need is access to health care. I’m willing to pay for that. But I think that people who can’t afford to pay for it shouldn’t have to expect to simply become sick or become crippled or die.

-Hugh Meade, an Oklahoma City sign fabricator who will be able to obtain health insurance for the first time in 10 years on the new Affordable Care Act marketplace (Source:

Number of the Day


The number of Oklahomans receiving benefits from state and local government pension plans in 2009; the average benefit was $17,998 per year.

Source: National Institute on Retirement Security

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The House GOP’s plan to increase record poverty

Washington’s set to go from not doing enough to actively adding to our unconscionable poverty rate, slashing food stamps as poverty languishes. That’s because the House Republicans have a plan to double-down in their cuts to the Supplemental Assistance for Needy Families (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. Meanwhile, new Census data shows that record poverty rates, which rose sharply during the recession, have not been helped by our milquetoast recovery. They stayed flat at an historic high of 15 percent in 2012. That isn’t to say that government policy doesn’t work. Conservatives love to point to rising food stamp enrollment as evidence of social insurance fraud, or to argue that simultaneously rising poverty and rising food stamp enrollment are evidence of the program’s failure. The Census numbers tell another story: in 2012, current SNAP enrollment lifted four million Americans above the poverty line.

Read more from Demos.

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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.

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