Weekly Wonk: Declaring a public health emergency | Medicaid anniversary | Equity as a policy goal

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’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom.

This Week from OK Policy

An open letter to Gov. Stitt: This is a public health emergency: Health officials statewide have been urgently raising the alarm that our communities need to take action to help protect Oklahomans’ health and safety from COVID-19, especially for our youngest children who are unable to be vaccinated. As the result of legislative action this spring, local leaders are able to exert local control and take certain proactive virus-fighting steps if — and only if — the governor declares a state of emergency. That time is now. [OK Policy]

Fifty-six years of Medicaid: Fiscally responsible and morally mandated: The Medicaid program, since it was signed into law in 1965, has provided access to affordable health care for millions, strengthened private insurance and Medicare, and positively impacted state budgets. Medicaid has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people have relied on this coverage to get vital care. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]

Joint committee to evaluate uses for federal relief dollars (Capitol Update): Last Wednesday the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding — co-chaired by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, and Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston — outlined the process it will use to distribute the $1.87 billion that will be coming to Oklahoma through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Running a fair race: While the words are very similar, there is a significant distinction between equality and equity. As I was thinking about the difference between them, I was reminded that the current Olympic games provide an excellent opportunity to showcase why equity should be our preferred goal. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

We’re Hiring: Join the team as a Regional Organizer for Together Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Policy Institute is currently hiring for three regional organizers in Northeast, Southwest, and Central Oklahoma. Under the leadership of OK Policy’s Legislative & Outreach Director, the Regional Organizer provides structured leadership in the development and implementation of community-based advocacy actions that further policy goals identified by OK Policy, and works closely with Together Oklahoma (TOK) chapters, which are composed of volunteers that form OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy arm. Applications for these positions close on August 16, 2021 at 5:00 PM (CST). Click here to learn more and apply.

Weekly 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 2019, the Medicaid program served just under 1 million individuals at some point over the course of the year. As of November 2020, SoonerCare’s total monthly enrollment was 929,017 people. Of these, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) were low-income children under the age of 18.

Oklahoma’s total Medicaid spending was $5.784 billion in FY 2019, with the federal government accounting for $3.274 billion of that amount. The federal matching rate (FMAP) for most expenses was 62.4 percent.

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

Quote of the Week

“I just feel like above all else, above all the B.S. that’s running around, against all the false statements and strong opinions. Just do yourself a favor, do your family a favor, do your friends a favor. Just go get your shot. People should know the vaccine is there to help. COVID is not slowing down and it can happen to you.”

– Elizabeth Satter, whose husband went from being a healthy 27-year-old to being debilitated by COVID [KFOR]

Editorial of the Week

Listen with an open mind to neighbors who have been the targets of hate

Opinions about life in Oklahoma vary greatly depending on a person’s race, and people of all races need to pay attention.

The recent survey from Evolve Research, on behalf of five nonprofits, found that Black Oklahomans have a dramatically different experience than white Oklahomans.

Some 81% of Black respondents say they have been the target of racism, compared to 26% of whites, and 81% of Black people in the state have witnessed racism toward someone else, compared to 54% of whites.

Put another way by reporter Randy Krehbiel, the data mean 46% of white Oklahomans said they have never witnessed racism.

Moises Echeverria, executive director of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, pointed out that it is easy to dismiss things not personally experienced. OCCJ is one of the nonprofit groups that participated in the survey.

That’s where meaningful contact and listening come in.

“What we have seen at OCCJ is that the more meaningful a relationship is between individuals who are different, the less likely it is for those people to dismiss (one another’s) opinions,” he said. “If I have a friend who tells me they’ve experienced something … I don’t understand, if I care for this friend, I will ask questions and try to understand where they’re coming from.”

That’s a variation on ancient wisdom that empathy is the essential human emotion and our best hope for survival.

As Walt Whitman said, “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels. I myself become the wounded person.”

Those who have not felt the sting of discrimination are privileged. Unless they are willing to listen to those who have, that privilege becomes a debilitating arrogance, a false assumption that because I have not been a target of hate, no one has been a target of hate.

There is power when people listen to each other with open minds and accept what is being said.

That message does not just apply to racial minorities. Anyone who can be labeled as “the other” — religious minorities, LGBTQ Oklahomans, those with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities — knows a different world than the privileged, and one that deserves to be understood.

State and city leaders ought to take note of these results.

When Oklahomans feel left out, targeted and the victims of discrimination, their experience becomes a growing cancer. It will harm the state’s workforce, education system and quality of life. It breeds discontent. It creates a society that is inherently unstable.

The only way to change course is through embracing diversity, equity and inclusion at home, on the job, in society and in public policy and letting that ethic shape the way we respond to one another and behave as a society

[Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • $65 million – Estimated increase in Oklahoma state and local tax revenue by 2025 due to Medicaid expansion [Source: Commonwealth Fund]
  • 983,728 – Number of Oklahomans who are insured by Medicaid, as of June 2021. (Note: This does not include the new enrollees from Medicaid expansion. [Source: OHCA]
  • 140,793 – Number of Oklahomans currently enrolled in Medicaid expansion, as of 7/26/21 [Oklahoma Health Care Authority]
  • 57% – Percentage of all Oklahoma childbirths in 2019 that were covered by Medicaid. More than 28,000 Oklahoma births were covered by Medicaid that year. [Source: OHCA]
  • 601,023 – Number of Oklahoma children who are insured by Medicaid, as of June 2021. This represents nearly 2 out of every 3 children in Oklahoma. [Source: Oklahoma Health Care Authority]

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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