Most Oklahomans get health insurance through their employer, but that’s not an option for everyone.
“I never assumed that health care coverage was really going to be a consistent thing in our lives,” said Madelyn Taylor, an independent hairstylist and makeup artist who lives Oklahoma City.
The health insurance marketplace, established by the Affordable Care Act, changed that for most people. It allows people without employer-sponsored coverage to buy health plans for themselves and their family members.
About 150,750 Oklahomans enrolled in health care plans on the exchange in 2019, including Taylor.
But 14.2% of people in the state don’t have health insurance at all. In fact, Oklahoma has the second highest uninsured rate in the country, behind Texas.
Oklahoma also has one of the highest uninsured rates for children — 8% of Oklahomans under 18 lack coverage.
These numbers are in part because the state didn’t expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Fortunately, 26.6% of uninsured Oklahomans still qualify for Medicaid. Additionally, half of the uninsured in the state qualify for financial assistance to offset the cost of coverage, according to data from the U.S. Census.
Of uninsured adults in Oklahoma, according to the Census:
- 47% are white
- 19% are Hispanic
- 8% are black
- 53% are men
- 47% are women
Taylor had intermittent coverage whenever her husband had a job with health benefits. When he was between jobs, the family lost coverage and stopped getting regular care for their health issues.
“I was genuinely concerned how I was going to continue providing for my family as an independent contractor — because getting health insurance as an independent contractor seems impossible and extremely unaffordable,” Taylor said.
Like many, she was skeptical she could find an affordable health plan through the insurance marketplace.
That’s where people like Max McKenzie come in.
“My job is to go out and talk to our members and people in the public … and meet them where they are in their health insurance journey,” he said.
McKenzie is the Mobile Assistance Center unit manager at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma. He travels with the BCBSOK Mobile Assistance Center across the state to talk to people about their health care needs and teach them about coverage options.
Taylor’s income qualified her for tax credits to go toward her premiums, meaning she got an affordable plan through the exchange.
Even if people don’t qualify for financial help, insurance can keep health care-related costs down.
“It’s going to protect you from the devastating costs that come from an accident or a prolonged illness,” McKenzie said of health care coverage. “At the end of the day, we all want to protect our family.”
Taylor has renewed her BCBSOK coverage through the exchange each year since 2017. It has made it possible for her to get regular access to a primary care provider, specialists and medications to address her health conditions.
“It was kind of a major relief in every way possible,” she said.
This year, BCBSOK is also adding to its efforts to help people like Taylor get and keep health coverage with the launch of Be Covered.
Be Covered is a community-based education campaign designed to help uninsured and underinsured people understand the benefits of coverage and identify their subsidy eligibility options. The campaign’s website — becovered.org/ok — provides information in both English and Spanish about health insurance and how to enroll.
“We’re in all 77 counties trying to educate people that there are options for them that allow them to buy insurance,” says Joseph Cunningham, M.D., president of BCBSOK. “And we have people to help.”