Weekly Wonk: Economic power of women | A glimmer of hope in the dark | Capitol Update

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

Columnist: American economy could jump by $13 trillion if recovery efforts focused on women: Although women have historically been at a disadvantage in the workplace, women are suffering the effects of the pandemic in shocking ways. Prior to COVID-19, our economy was already doing a disservice to millions of working women. Nearly half of all working women work in jobs paying low wages, with median earnings of only $10.93 per hour. [Ahniwake Rose / Tulsa World]

TSET asks legislators to revisit definition of tobacco products (Capitol Update): The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) was created by voters in 2000 to manage and invest proceeds and earnings from the national tobacco lawsuit settlement in which former Attorney General Drew Edmondson was a leader with other AGs around the country. Edmondson wisely recommended, and Oklahoma voters agreed, to put the money in trust with a constitutional mandate to support strategies and programs designed to maintain or improve the health of Oklahomans. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: A glimmer of hope in the dark: Good news is hard to find these days. Between grim stories from the pandemic’s recent spike to ever-deepening political divisions, these have been dark days. However, spending time last week with some Oklahoma college students and recent grads helped give me hope for our state’s future. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET)

TSET is an endowment trust established with payments from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between 46 states and the tobacco industry.

In November 2000, with passage of State Question 692, Oklahoma became the first and only state to direct its tobacco settlement payments into a constitutionally-protected trust fund. Under the measure, 75 percent of Oklahoma’s annual payment is now deposited in the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), with the remainder divided between legislative appropriations (18.75 percent) and the Attorney General Office’s Evidence Fund (6.25 percent). To ensure that the Trust grows over time and provides an ongoing and sustainable funding stream, TSET is allowed to spend only certified investment earnings. 

TSET is governed by two boards: a five-member Board of Investment that oversees the investment of funds to the Trust and a seven-member Board of Directors that allocates the endowment’s earnings to programs that promote health and well-being under one of five categories of allowable expenditures.

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

Quote of the Week

“The goal for any person who gets in trouble with law enforcement should be to rehabilitate them into productive members of society. If they are constantly indebted to the court system, that makes it much harder to move on with their lives. It’s important that we in the Legislature work with experts to determine if state-appropriated dollars can help fix some of the issues we are seeing.”

-State Rep. Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah, speaking about how the current system of funding Oklahoma courts through fines and fees can perpetuate justice involvement for many residents [CNHI via Norman Transcript]

Editorial of the Week

Excluding physicians from Medicaid oversight board poor management

The recent removal of the only two physicians from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board of Directors prioritizes political power over quality health care coverage.

The OHCA manages the Medicaid program, which is being expanded after voters passed State Question 802 last year. About 25% of Oklahomans are enrolled in the program.

Gov. Kevin Stitt wants to privatize its management but was stopped by lawmakers and the Oklahoma Supreme Court, saying he would need legislative approval to do that.

Oklahoma tried third-party management earlier, resulting in significant provider shortages, particularly in rural areas. Patients went untreated or were forced to drive long distances to get medical care. It was considered a failure.

The state doesn’t need to repeat history.

Much of the medical community opposes privatization based on that previous experience and outcomes in other states with privatized management.

Stitt doesn’t appear to have let the idea go.

The model is based on the false assumption that an intermediary between costs and providers will lead to efficiency.

The only way to cut health care costs is to serve fewer residents or reduce services. Both are bad for Oklahomans and the overall health of the state.

The two OHCA board members — Lawton ophthalmologist Dr. Jean Hausheer and Oklahoma City pediatrician Dr. Laura Shamblin — were removed without being given a reason after voting to table two administrative rules sought by OHCA Director Kevin Corbett.

Those rules appear to be in line with Stitt’s goal of third-party management and would wire around the Supreme Court’s decision.

Replacing the members are marketing specialist Susan Dell’Osso and retired oil and gas executive Gino DeMarco, who served as Stitt’s “PPE czar.” DeMarco came under scrutiny after a third-party vendor was paid a $56,000 finder’s fee in the $1.8 million purchase from a Tulsa piano bar owner of medical personal protective equipment that was never received.

We oppose privatizing Medicaid. The OHCA has shown good results in managing the program itself, including handling about 170,000 new enrollments since July 1. No additional staff has been needed, according to Corbett.

Having enough physicians participate in Medicaid is the only way the program works. They are the direct health providers with experience in how effectively the program operates.

Medicaid doesn’t need the hand of a for-profit manager. It needs an oversight board of qualified professionals who include front-line doctors.

[Editorial / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 70% – The percentage of criminal court fines and fees that remain unpaid each year. [Source: Open Justice Oklahoma]
  • 19,280 – The number of Oklahomans who had drivers licenses suspended for failure to pay court fines and fees in 2018. [Source: Oklahoma Department of Public Safety]
  • $663,557,851 – The amount of criminal court fines and fees designed to fund Oklahoma courts which was not collected between 2012 and 2018. [Source: Open Justice Oklahoma]
  • 20,000 – The number of open Failure to Pay warrants in Tulsa county in 2019 [Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute]

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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