The Weekly Wonk: Oklahoma ranks poorly on looking out for kids, how to avoid past mistakes on Medicaid

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

OK Policy and the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book this week, and we learned Oklahoma ranks near the worst in the nation for child well-being. In an op-ed for The Oklahoman, Strategy and Communications Director Gene Perry pointed out that Oklahoma is simply not doing what it takes to give all kids what they need to thrive.

Policy Director Carly Putnam warned us that although federal Medicaid funding is climbing, Oklahoma should avoid repeating past mistakes of cutting state support for health care. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update argued that the connection between refusal to expand Medicaid and high incarceration is significant. Executive Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column called on U.S. Sens. James Inhofe and James Lankford to protect SNAP for struggling Oklahoma families and vote in favor of the bipartisan Senate farm bill (unfortunately, both senators voted against the measure).  

Did you miss our evening with Danielle Allen? The entire conversation between Danielle Allen and Tulsa civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons is now available on our podcast

OK Policy in the News

Blatt sat down with The New Yorker to talk about the primaries and the lasting impact of the walkout in Oklahoma. Following Tuesday’s primary, Blatt spoke with New on 6 about the driving forces behind the primary turnout surpassing the 2014 general election turnout. An interview with Blatt on the significant increase in early voting appeared in The Ada News, Claremore Daily Progress, Joplin Globe, Enid News & Eagle, & Stillwater News-Press.

Perry talked to Tulsa World and Public Radio Tulsa about the release of the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book and the importance of having an accurate Census count of children living in Oklahoma.

Upcoming Opportunities

Race and America after the Civil War: We’re teaming up with Magic City Books to host award-winning scholar Kendra Field, assistant professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. Kendra will be in conversation with local author and attorney, Hannibal Johnson, to talk about the masterful and poignant story of her descendants: three African-American families who journeyed west after emancipation. Find all the details on the Facebook event page

Weekly What’s That

Medicaid, What’s  That?

Medicaid is a public insurance program that provides health coverage to low-income families and individuals, including children, parents, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities. The program, which was created by Congress in 1965 as Title XIX of the Social Security Act, is operated by the states and funded jointly by the federal government and the states.

In Oklahoma, the Medicaid program is known as SoonerCare and is operated primarily by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. In FY 2017, the program had an average monthly enrollment of served more than 1 million individuals over the course of the year. Sixty-two percent of those enrolled in the program were children, and 60 percent of all children in the state were enrolled in SoonerCare at some point in the year. Aged, Blind and Disabled (ABD) enrollees made up the second largest group (16.8 percent). 

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“It’s the opposite of the way it has been, when legislators expected to pay for it in votes if they supported a tax increase. Now they’re paying for it in votes for having been against a tax increase. That is pretty dramatic for Oklahoma.”

Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt

Editorial of the Week

Gene Perry: We need to do better for Oklahoma children

One way Oklahoma makes life harder for children is the state’s continuing refusal to accept federal dollars to expand health care access. The largest group without health coverage in Oklahoma is working adults, many of whom are raising children. If we help more parents get insurance, their kids are much more likely to get covered, too. That’s especially needed because Oklahoma’s child uninsured rate of 7 percent is worse than all but four other states.

For similar reasons, Oklahoma should stop the push to deny health care to parents if they don’t work a certain number of hours each week and complete strict reporting requirements. Whole families suffer when a parent loses health care — and when that parent is struggling with mental illness or a chronic disease, it can cascade into deep poverty or losing kids to foster care.

Numbers of the Day

  • 1,393 – Number of Oklahomans who died due to diabetes in 2016 (3rd highest rate in the nation)
  • 23.9% – Uninsured rate for people of color in Oklahoma – twice as high as the uninsured rate for white Oklahomans
  • 40.6% – Percentage of the population in Alfalfa County that is female, the lowest of any county in Oklahoma (2017)
  • 21.5 – Oklahoma drug overdose deaths per 100,000 population (24th out of all 50 states)
  • 112 – Number of executions in Oklahoma since 1976, the third most in the country behind Texas and Virginia.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Teens face a gender pay gap, too. Here’s how to help them navigate it [Washington Post].
  • Rural america has too few dentists — and too few patients who can pay [Washington Post].
  • Why America needs more African American teachers – and how to recruit and retain them [Scholars Strategy Network].
  • You’ve been arrested. Will you get bail? Can you pay it? It may all depend on your judge [FiveThirtyEight].
  • How the opioid crisis is depressing America’s labor force [NPR].


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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