Health Care Working Group
Members of the Oklahoma Legislature's new Health Care Working Group meet with press and other observers after a meeting at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 (Archiebald Browne)

The Oklahoma Legislature’s new Health Care Working Group met for the first time Wednesday morning and heard presentations from state agency leaders who provided an overview of health problems Oklahomans.

The bipartisan and bicameral Healthcare Working Group was created by House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) with a stated goal of developing ways to increase Oklahomans’ access to health care. The group was formed while proponents of a citizen-led Medicaid expansion effort have begun collecting signatures to place SQ 802 on a 2020 ballot. Onlookers have speculated that lawmakers could attempt to pass a private-insurance partnership version of Medicaid expansion in an attempt to head off SQ 802’s constitutional mandate.

“The overall goal of this group — and really everyone working on health care solutions — is to create a healthy Oklahoma,” said group co-chairman Rep. Marcus McEntire (R-Duncan). “We want to improve the way our citizens access health care and the way we deliver health care, and we want find a solution that will make it more affordable for our citizens.”

Wednesday’s initial meeting consisted of presentations from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the state’s Medicaid program called SoonerCare.

Buffy Heater, chief data, public policy and promotion officer for OSDH, told group members that Oklahoma is ranked as the 47th healthiest state in the nation.

But while Heater confirmed that only about 80 percent of Oklahomans have some sort of insurance, she also discussed many other concerns being faced such as cancer, lung disease and heart problems.

A map presented by Audra Cross, legislative liaison for the OHCA, showed that the majority of insurance holders reside in highly populated areas such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa, with more residents of rural areas living without insurance.

Charts were presented to the group that showed Oklahoma adults and teens are above the national average in smoking and obesity. Also shown were trends of cancer diagnosis as well as deaths, which were on par with the national average.

While co-chairmen of the health care working group said there will likely not be action taken by the Legislature in the near future, their goal is to gather as much information as possible to figure out what to do about the various health problems Oklahoma citizens face.

“I do not know how long this will go, but we will go for as long as we need to,” said the group’s other co-chairman, Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada), in his closing remarks.

The next planned meeting for the group will be at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the Capitol, and will continue to meet weekly for at least until the next month.

Working group leaders said the Aug. 21 meeting will focus on health issues within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections population.

(Correction: This post was updated at 8:15 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, to correct the spelling of a lawmaker’s name. NonDoc regrets the error.)