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Forum lifted the hood on Oklahoma health care for attendees to learn how it works

John Marshall / Red Dirt Report
(L-R) David Fritze, Julie Cox-Kain, Craig Jones, and Lou Carmichael take questions at the forum
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Tuesday night over 50 folks gathered in Kamp’s 1910 Café to attend a health care forum sponsored by Oklahoma Watch and KLRU. The panel created a place for local healthcare experts to present their views and thoughts on the current issues surrounding health care and to answer questions.

Included in the panel was moderator David Fritze, Executive Editor for Oklahoma Watch. The panel included Julie Cox-Kain, deputy secretary of health and human services and senior deputy commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health; Craig Jones, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, and Lou Carmichael, chief executive officer of Variety Care, which serves many low-income patients.

Rising health care premiums, prescription cost, and health care access were the primary targets as the panel explained the complex and ever-changing map of health care in Oklahoma.

Medicare access and the lack of expansion in Oklahoma was a common topic in the meeting. According to Cox-Kain, Oklahoma spends a little over $1 billion a year on Medicare mostly for children.

Explaining that the federal government provides a larger of a 60/40 percent match to every dollar that Oklahoma spends on Medicare, listeners learned about the tragedy that might happen if Oklahoma Medicare dollars were reduced. There is a proposed cut by the Governor for those funds during the current legislative session.

Jones explained that for each dollar the state cuts from the Medicare budget, the state loses a total of $2.50 of coverage for some of the most disadvantaged among us.

Currently, and with some exceptions, Medicare covers children of parents who qualify as poor. What that level is, seems to be a moving target. According to insurance agent Jim Scheihing owner of Insure It Forward, children of parents whose incomes fall below $11,770 in 2017 would be eligible for Medicaid.

For the most part, adults are not covered and they were the target of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicare expansion. There are some exceptions.

Among the questions asked was why Oklahoma did not accept the expansion. Jones gave his best answer, "I think we missed an unbelievable opportunity.

"I think that Obamacare (ACA) wasn’t sustainable, but that doesn’t mean it would not have been a good choice for the state to accept the dollars and help with the transition to new models of health care."

Though most think it is too late to accept these dollars because at this point, matching state dollars would be needed to implement the expansion.


According to Jones, healthcare issues can be broken down into four groups.

- 20 percent has to do with genetics

- 20 percent involved your environment

- 50 percent behavior

- 10 percent is health care access

Talking about behavior issues, Cox-Klain expressed the need for a $1.50 increase on each pack of cigarettes. Citing the cost alone will reduce the number of new smokers and discourage current smokers. All on the panel nodded in agreement as the moderator agreed with, "Amen."

Carmichael discussed other issues like nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle choices that we all have the ability to change. The need for a healthy lifestyle and education was also suggested.

Relating back to the cost of not implementing the Medicare expansion, Jones talked about how 80 percent of Oklahoma hospitals are operating at a loss. One of the issues he talked about was how large deductible policies were mostly affecting rural hospitals in Oklahoma who are often unable to collect the initial debt.

In general, the meeting was not encouraging for most in attendance. With a state budget in crisis, health care in trouble, and rural hospitals on the verge of closing; things do not look encouraging.

Jones summed up the budget issue, "Until the state and the leaders get behind an economic budget, not a year by year kick half of it down the road. We will be tinkering around the edges of health care, education and other things, we have got to get our budget in order."

Oklahoma Watch videotaped the entire forum and will have the video available on their website sometime in the future. 

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John Marshall

John Marshall is a videographer and new addition to Red Dirt Report. As he told us: I am...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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