Pleasant surprise: Oklahoma health insurance gains ground for all ages, types of coverage

As we noted right after the numbers were  released, last week’s Census Bureau report on health insurance coverage provided some unexpectedly good news for Oklahoma. While the nation as a whole saw an increase in the number of uninsured, which has now reached 46.3 million, Oklahoma saw a substantial drop in both its number and rate of uninsured. Using the 2-year averages recommended by the Bureau when reporting state-level data, Oklahoma’s  uninsured rate for  persons of all ages fell from 18.3 percent in 2006-07 to 15.9 percent in 2007-08. The reported number of uninsured Oklahomans declined from 646,000 in 2006-07 to 565,000 in 2007-08. Oklahoma’s  2-year average uninsured rate now exceeds the national average by less than one percentage point (15.3 percent national to 15.9 percent Oklahoma).

We have now taken a closer look at the numbers based on historical data available from the Census Bureau website. As shown in the chart below, we  found that gains in insurance coverage were enjoyed across all age groups. The uninsured rate for children has been dropping steadily throughout the decade due primarily to more children being covered by SoonerCare (Medicaid).  After dipping back up slightly in 2006-07, the uninsured rate for children plunged below 10 percent in 2007-08, and Oklahoma’s rate of uninsured children at 9.9 percent fell below the national rate (10.5 percent) for the first time. Among working-age adults, Oklahoma bucked the national trend in seeing a drop in the uninsured rate. At 21.9 percent, the uninsured rate for working-age adults in OKlahoma fell to its lowest level since 1999-2000, yet remains higher than the national average (20.2 percent).


The gains in insurance among Oklahoma’s children and adults in 2007-08 were a result of a greater number of people having both private and public sources of coverage. Here, too, Oklahoma deviated from the national pattern, which saw an increase in public insurance  offsetting a continued erosion in employer-based coverage. In Oklahoma, the population covered by private health insurance jumped to 63.7 percent in 2007-08, a 2.5 percentage point increase from 2006-07 and the highest rate since 2002-03. The increase in private coverage for non-elderly adults (plus 3.4 percentage points) was slightly higher than for kids (plus 2.1 percentage points). At the same time, the Census Bureau found that the percentage of Oklahomans covered by public coverage – Medicaid, Medicare and military – grew by 1.0 percentage points. The percentage of children with public coverage rose by 2.4 percentage points, while the percentage of non-elderly adults with public coverage held steady.

The fact that Oklahoma fared better than the nation as a whole in insurance coverage last year is not entirely surprising, given that our economy staved off the recession a good 6-12 months longer than most other states. However, the magnitude of the state’s gains was surely unexpected. The recent growth in the Insure Oklahoma program, which now subsidizes employer-based coverage for some 17,000 working adults, undoubtedly accounts for some, but far from all, of the progress. Whether there was a real burst of increased health insurance coverage at the tail end of Oklahoma’s economic boom, or whether we’re seeing numbers that stretch at the margins of error of any statistical sample, likely can’t be known. However, given the impact of the recession on employment and the burdens imposed by rising health care costs, we can only hope that at least some recent gains can be maintained when next year’s numbers are released.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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