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Report: Oklahoma sees significant decline in uninsured children

In Oklahoma, 7.4% of children do not have health insurance. That's a drop from 8.6% in 2019.
Children's Health Care Report Card
In Oklahoma, 7.4% of children do not have health insurance. That's a drop from 8.6% in 2019.

A study into health coverage rates for kids ranked Oklahoma first in the nation for its gains over the past few years. But much of those gains will likely be lost when the federal government stops its COVID health emergency policies.

Georgetown Center for Children and Families reports Oklahoma’s uninsured rate for children dropped at a higher rate from 2019 to 2021 than any other state, with about 11,000 gaining coverage in that time.

About half of Oklahoma children are enrolled in SoonerCare. As of October, the Medicaid program covered more than 600,000 kids.

Researchers, including analysts who worked on the Georgetown report and those who work for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, say some of the gains were likely due to Medicaid Expansion, which raised awareness about the program.

“We’ve seen a “welcome mat” effect in states after Medicaid expansion opened the door to coverage for low-income parents. Children who were already eligible came in that door too, and the whole family becomes insured,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University research center and lead author of the report.

But one in six of those kids could soon lose their coverage.

When the pandemic started, Congress passed legislation that allowed states to get more Medicaid funding if they loosened some eligibility requirements during the federally designated public health emergency. The agreement allows people to keep their coverage if they fail to, for example, get paperwork in on time, or if they get a pay bump that puts them a little over the income requirement.

The emergency is scheduled to end in January if the federal government decides against extending it again.

While its uninsured rate for children dropped from 8.6 percent to 7.4 percent, Oklahoma still has work to do, ranking 44th in the country.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Catherine Sweeney grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State University. She has covered local, state and federal government for outlets in Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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