BY MIKE W. RAY
In an editorial published earlier this month, the Oklahoman newspaper heartily embraced a package of recommendations by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a right-wing, free-market “think tank.”
Instead of expanding Medicaid to “a new class of able-bodied adults,” the OCPA contended, legislators should refocus their efforts on improving the program for those it was meant to serve: “the truly needy.”
I, for one, would like to know just how the OCPA and the Oklahoman define “truly needy”.
Medicaid Covers More Than Three-Quarters of a Million Oklahomans
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers this state’s Medicaid program for low-income citizens, reported that 785,348 state residents – approximately 21% of our entire state population – were enrolled in SoonerCare [Medicaid] in April. Two-thirds of them [517,426] were children and the other 34% [267,922] were adults. All of them were impoverished.
Federal poverty levels this year are:
– $11,880 for a single person
– $16,020 for a two-person household
– $20,160 for a household of three
– $24,300 for a family of four
I don’t know anybody who’s making 20 grand a year and driving a Lincoln Continental or a Cadillac Escalade and living in Got-Rocks Acres. Maybe the OCPA does, but I seriously doubt it.
Oklahoma’s poverty rate is 17th highest in the nation.
Statewide, 16.67% of the population was deemed impoverished in 2014. Among children living in poverty, the rate was one-in-four.
In 2014 [the most recent year for which complete data is available], 23% of the in-patients admitted to Oklahoma’s 158 hospitals had Medicaid as their primary payer.
Fully 90% of the babies delivered at the Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center [EOMC] in Poteau are born to mothers whose health benefits are provided by Medicaid. Approximately 60% of all babies delivered at medical facilities throughout Oklahoma are born to females who are on Medicaid, records reflect.
Nurses, doctors and staff at the EOMC “often pay cab fare from our own pockets to enable these new mothers to get back home,” said CEO Mike Carter. More than one-third of the patients treated at Poteau’s EOMC are on the state’s Medicaid rolls, and 43% are on Medicare, he added.
More than Half a Million Oklahomans Uninsured
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority reported that 578,336 Oklahomans were uninsured in 2014; of that total, 86% were adults and 14% were children. Oklahomans who had no health insurance whatsoever constituted 15% of the total state population at that time.
Uncompensated medical care that hospitals across this state provided in 2014 totaled $560 million, Oklahoma Hospital Association ledgers reflect. That means the hospitals provided that medical care at their own expense, because the patients they treated couldn’t afford health insurance and thus had no cash with which to pay their medical bills.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than one-fourth of all adults in Oklahoma aged 18-34 had no health insurance; one of every five adults 35-54 were uninsured; 13.7% of all Oklahomans aged 55-64 had no health insurance; and even some seniors 65 and older, who presumably qualify for federal Medicare, nevertheless had no insurance coverage.
Tens of Thousands of School Children Qualify for Free Meals
Over the last decade, Oklahoma has experienced a 37% increase in children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches because of modest family income.
The Feed the Children Oklahoma City Teacher Store announced recently it was “currently at capacity and not accepting applications for new school districts at this time.”
The announcement was followed by a list of 104 public school districts. They included Putnam City, in which 76% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and El Reno, where approximately 80% of the students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. Virtually every student in the Poteau public school district qualifies for a free or reduced-price lunch.
EITC, for Working Poor, Cut Back by GOP
The Republican-controlled Oklahoma Legislature voted May 20 to limit the Earned Income Tax Credit [EITC] in order to save $28.9 million needed to help plug a $1.3 billion hole in the state budget that the Republicans created by reducing the state income tax, slashing the gross production tax, and approving a host of tax credits and exemptions for wealthy corporations.
The EITC legislation, SB 1604, harms Oklahomans who are employed in low-paying jobs. The credit is designed to encourage work by supplementing earned income from those low-wage jobs. Oklahoma’s EITC was enacted in 2000 during the administration of Republican Gov. Frank Keating.
Contrary to erroneous statements that more than one Republican uttered on the floor of the House of Representatives during debate on SB 1604, everyone who claims the EITC is employed. Only working parents and a few working singles can claim the credit. They pay income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes.
The maximum state EITC for a family with two children is $277; for a family of three children, it’s $312.
The state EITC was claimed by more than 330,000 Oklahoma households in 2014, for a total benefit of $39.1 million. Thus, with SB 1604, the Republicans gutted 74% of a benefit for one-third of a million households of working but indigent Oklahomans.
In comparison, the oil and gas industry reaps about $470 million annually from tax concessions authorized by the Legislature.
Scholars say that nearly 100 passages in the Holy Bible address our responsibility of service to the poor and homeless and providing for the hungry. So I wonder what Jesus would say about this year’s legislative session.
– Mike W. Ray is media director for the state House Democratic Caucus. This posting originally appeared on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008135227880