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Oklahoma Watch: Governor's decision on Medicaid leaves fate of health care in question for 200,000 in Oklahoma

BY RON J. JACKSON JR., For The Oklahoman Modified: January 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm •  Published: January 13, 2013

With Gov. Mary Fallin's refusal to expand Medicaid, the fate of health care for about 200,000 uninsured people is in question.

But who are these Oklahomans?

All are of working age, but otherwise they are a diverse group, according to a study by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research organization.

More than half are between ages 19 and 35, and more than three-fourths live below the federal poverty level, which is $11,170 for an individual and $23,050 for a family of four. About 60 percent are white, and more than half are men.

A relatively high share in Oklahoma, 24 percent, are parents. That compares to 18 percent nationally, the study found.

These people don't now qualify for health care under the government program but stood to gain coverage next year through expanded Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Most also fall into a “crater,” meaning not only will they not qualify for Medicaid when the Affordable Care Act more fully takes effect in 2014, but they won't be eligible to buy subsidized coverage on a new health exchange, where people can shop for insurance online.

Fallin has said the state can't afford the Medicaid expansion and won't participate, even though most of the expansion costs would be covered by the federal government. She has promised the state will continue to look for ways to provide more health care options to the uninsured.

On Thursday, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority authorized a $500,000 contract for a consultant to figure out how much it will cost for Oklahoma to come up with a state-based solution to improve health care coverage in the state.

Fallin's decision not to expand Medicaid leaves people such as Greg Rogers disappointed.

“It just doesn't make sense,” said Rogers, 40, of Del City. “Why would someone turn down federal money that was going to help with the health of thousands upon thousands of people?”

He said the lack of insurance causes him to avoid going to the doctor. His wife, Keta Rogers, 38, lost her medical coverage last year when she was laid off.

“There have been days when I felt too sick to get out of bed,” Greg Rogers said. He works for a small insulation company that doesn't provide health insurance. “But I can't afford to miss work. My family is counting on me. So I drag myself out of bed and do what I have to do to take care of my family.

“One day I was so sick, I finally broke down and went to the emergency room. … It cost me $1,000 for a $30 prescription.”

The couple have three children, ages 14 years, 12 years and 10 months, who are covered under Medicaid. Greg and Keta Rogers are among as many as 50,000 Oklahoma parents who don't now qualify for Medicaid but would have qualified under the expansion plan, according to the study by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.

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I'll be honest, I worry a lot about my health. I pray nothing happens to me. If something did happen, it would be devastating to my wife and kids.”

Greg Rogers,
Del City


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