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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

The couple's best hope for getting medical insurance may be to qualify to buy heavily subsidized coverage through the health care exchange the federal government will set up under Obamacare.

The problem is: In order to qualify for subsidized health insurance through the exchange, people must have an income level that is at least at the poverty level. Greg Rogers' income is slightly below that level.

He is trying to boost his pay. He wakes up at 5 a.m. and works at his full-time job until about 3:45 p.m. He then attends classes as part of a three-year apprenticeship that will ultimately earn him a certification that can lead to higher pay.

“I remember one day a man (from an outside insurer) came to talk to us at work about signing us up for health insurance,” Greg Rogers said. “I knew I couldn't afford it before he even began to talk. Right now, I have money taken out of each check to pay for the apprenticeship. We need every penny I make just to get by.

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

Greg and Keta Rogers fall into what's being called a crater: They make too much to get Medicaid but too little to buy the subsidized coverage on the exchange.

Work with lawmakers

When Fallin announced her decision in November, she said the state cannot afford Medicaid expansion and would become more dependent on federal money that might not be available in the future.

Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin, said recently that the governor wants to work with lawmakers, businesses and the health community to find other ways to provide affordable access to care, but it is too early to provide specifics.

“We know that we need to improve our health as a state,” Weintz said. Insuring more families is part of the answer, but sustaining economic growth and reducing preventable illnesses also are important.

If the state had agreed to expand Medicaid, the federal government would have paid $3.6 billion over seven years, including 100 percent of costs for the first three years.

Fallin said accepting the money would put the state at risk of costs of up to $475 million between now and 2020, with escalating annual expenses in subsequent years. For context, the state now spends more than $1 billion a year on Medicaid.

William Noel, pastor of Grace and Glory Baptist Church in northeast Oklahoma City, which sponsors a free clinic, said many people would be surprised at the variety of uninsured Oklahomans.

“These aren't homeless people who don't have jobs. In our free clinic, we see people all the time from various professions — teachers, small-business owners, and a lot of truck drivers.

“In fact, I don't have insurance,” added Noel, saying his church can't afford the coverage.

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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