Feds grant 1-year waiver for Insure Okla. program

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
09/11/2013 08:32 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The federal government will let the state operate its Insure Oklahoma health care plan for another year to buy state leaders more time to consider an alternative plan to provide coverage to the working poor, Gov. Mary Fallin announced on Sept. 6.

Flanked by state health officials, Fallin called the extension a “great win for the people of Oklahoma.”

“Insure Oklahoma has been around since 2005. It’s been a success for thousands of small businesses that have used it to help their employees purchase insurance,” Fallin said. “It’s been a success for tens of thousands of families of modest means, who would be uninsured without it. Moving forward, I strongly encourage our federal partners to review Insure Oklahoma’s many successes and announce their support for a permanent, ongoing program.”

Insure Oklahoma, which provides coverage to about 30,000 Oklahoma residents through both individual and employer-sponsored plans, was scheduled to cease operating at the end of the year. Federal officials expected many of the recipients to be eligible for Medicaid expansion if they earned up to 138 percent of federal poverty, or about $32,499 for a family of four.

But amid bitter resistance from some Republicans, Fallin rejected both the Medicaid expansion and the opportunity to set up a state-based insurance exchange where Oklahomans could purchase health insurance with federal tax subsidies. Both were offered under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Instead, Oklahoma residents who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $94,200 for a family of four, will be able to use federal tax subsidies to buy policies online through a federal exchange beginning Oct. 1.

But some state residents, including thousands on the Insure Oklahoma program, would have fallen into a “coverage crater” where they would have been ineligible for tax subsidies or Medicaid.

Under the one-year waiver, about 8,000 individuals currently on Insure Oklahoma who earn between 100 and 200 percent of federal poverty will instead purchase their health insurance through the federal exchange. Some of the co-pays required through Insure Oklahoma also will be reduced, including a $25 co-pay for doctor visits that will drop to $4, said Nico Gomez, director of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state agency that oversees the Medicaid program in Oklahoma.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said federal officials are urging states to accept billions of dollars in available Medicaid funding made possible through the new federal health care law, which provides 100 percent federal funding for three years and then drops incrementally to 90 percent.

“We look forward to working with Oklahoma and all other states in bringing a flexible, state-based approach to Medicaid coverage expansion and encourage the state to explore these options,” spokeswoman Emma Sandoe said in a statement.

Republican legislators favor the Insure Oklahoma program over Medicaid expansion because individual recipients pay modest co-pays, with the rest of the premiums covered by employer payments in some cases, along with state and federal matching funds.

“There’s some personal responsibility in the plan,” Fallin said.

The state’s portion of the funding comes from a tobacco tax approved by voters and is used to draw down matching federal Medicaid dollars.

News

BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/25/2016 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After a 90-minute executive session, the United Keetoowah Band’s Tribal Council on May 24 voted 7-4 to remove Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office. “Turn in your keys, walkie-talkie, radio and anything else you have,” Assistant Chief Joe Bunch said, drawing cheers from the standing room only crowd at the Jim Proctor Elder Community Center. Along with removal from office, Wickliffe was also barred for life from holding any elected or appointed positions within the tribe. [BLOCKQUOTE]Citing financial improprieties, the tribe’s treasurer, Ella Mae Worley, filed three articles of impeachment against Wickliffe earlier in the month. Among the allegations against Wickliffe contained within the three counts were: • Prohibited Worley and her predecessor, Shelbi Wofford, from having full access to the tribe’s financial records, its now-closed casino and nongaming businesses, • Signed multiple contracts without Tribal Council authorization, • Authorized almost $400,000 in cash advances to himself and Delaware District Rep. Jerry Hansen, Saline District Rep. Charles Smoke and Goingsnake District Rep. Willie Christie (Christie has since repaid the tribe), • Used a tribal credit card to pay his personal accounts with DirectTV, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Oklahoma Natural Gas, as well as at least two of his son’s bills, • Used a tribal credit card to reclaim at least three guns from a local pawn shop, • Used a tribal credit card to buy tires for three Tribal Councilors, plus a range top and air conditioning unit for a family member, • Provided himself with $5,000 in scholarship funds after the tribe curtailed its higher education program, • Allowed the UKB Corporate Authority Board to sell a $30,000 tribal vehicle to the late Assistant Chief Charles Locust for $5,000, • Authorized the disbursement of more than $40,000 from the tribe’s general fund and more than $4,000 from the motor fuel fund to Locust’s widow without council approval, and • Allowed his personal secretary to apply for services that she was not eligible for, as well as drive a government-issued vehicle without a current driver’s license. “I didn’t do this because I wanted to,” Worley said. “I did this because it is the right thing to do. This is the people’s money.” On all counts against Wickliffe, the Tribal Council reached a simple majority on each against him. However, as per the UKB Constitution, at least two-thirds of the Tribal Council had to vote for Wickliffe’s removal, as well as barring him from holding any elected or appointed position. Those voting for removal were Worley, Bunch, Secretary Joyce Hawk, Tahlequah District Rep. Anile Locust, Sequoyah District Rep. Barry Dotson, Illinois District Rep. Peggy Girty and Flint District Rep. Tom Duncan. The final officer to cast a vote for removal, Hawk silently deliberated for several minutes, eliciting calls of “Do the right thing” and other comments from the crowd. Hansen, Smoke, Christie and Canadian District Rep. Eddie Sacks voted against Wickliffe’s removal. Cooweescoowee District Rep. Clifford Wofford was absent. Wickliffe has seven days to file an appeal with the tribe’s judiciary. Elected to his third four-year term in November 2012, the now-former chief said little during the hearing and initially balked when given the opportunity to defend himself. When he did accept a microphone, he said he could not be wholly blamed for the tribe’s financial straits since its casino closed in 2013 and would have returned the money if he had been asked. “I don’t owe the tribe anything,” he said, eliciting jeers from the audience. “Neither does the council. I didn’t know the United Keetoowah Band could do this.” Escorted by Lighthorse officers, Wickliffe did not speak to reporters after the hearing.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/25/2016 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials donated $15,000 to the Hulbert Police Department earlier this month to help maintain the city’s fleet of police vehicles. Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan presented a check to Hulbert Police Chief Casey Rowe. “It’s important to help our communities, especially when it involves protecting residents and keeping neighborhoods in Hulbert safe,” Jordan, of Hulbert, said. “Sometimes city budgets can only go so far, so it’s great that the Cherokee Nation could help the city police department meet some of its needs.” The funds are from Tribal Councilors Jordan, David Walkingstick and Joe Byrd from Tribal Council law enforcement funds. “In this small community, donations help out a lot,” Rowe said. “It lets us show how safe our community can be with the Cherokee Nation’s help and we really appreciate this donation.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/25/2016 12:00 PM
HULBERT, Okla. – Cherokee Nation leaders celebrated the grand opening of the Hulbert Splash Pad with Hulbert city officials and law enforcement on May 16. The CN donated more than $50,000 over two years for park improvements, which includes building of the new splash pad and road paving to the park entrance. “In a community like Hulbert, the city park is the central location for youth activities, especially during the summer. Now, families will have a wonderful and safe environment for their kids to play, have fun and enjoy the new water features,” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “The equipment means Cherokee kids will have a new opportunity, but so will all our friends and neighbors. These kinds of infrastructure improvements make northeast Oklahoma a great place to live and raise a family.” The Hulbert Splash Pad is at the Hulbert City Park on Main Street. “A small community like this has a limited amount of money and limited number of places to go to apply for funds,” said Hulbert Mayor Shirley Teague. “This would not be possible without the help of the Cherokee Nation and we could not be more appreciative.” A penny sales tax was passed by residents to also fund part of the park upgrades. “It’s great that our community can enjoy some of the same amenities that other cities do and I’m glad the Cherokee Nation could step up and lend a hand in accomplishing this goal with our community partners,” Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan said. The Hulbert Splash Pad is now open until Labor Day and is free.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/25/2016 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A send-off ceremony for the 2016 “Remember the Removal Memorial Ride” will take place beginning at 9 a.m. on May 31 in the Tribal Council Chambers at the W.W. Keeler Complex. The event will be live streamed on the Internet and can be viewed by visiting <a href="http://www.cherokee.org" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org</a>. The cyclists have been meeting in Tahlequah since January to take Cherokee history classes and train together to prepare for the 1,000-mile journey from Georgia to Oklahoma. They will travel to Cherokee, North Carolina, where they will join seven cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. On June 5, they begin their journey from New Echota, Georgia, following the northern route of the Trail of Tears. This overland route was used by Cherokee detachments that left southeastern Tennessee in 1838 and traveled through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before reaching Indian Territory in the winter and spring of 1839. They are expected to arrive back in Tahlequah on June 24. During the ceremony the Cherokee National Youth Choir will perform the Star Spangled Banner, and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd will welcome families and visitors to the ceremony. The keynote speaker will be Principal Chief Bill John Baker. Fourth grade students from the Cherokee Immersion Charter School also will perform, and 2015 RTR cyclist Billy Flint will offer words of encouragement to the 10 cyclists. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. will make the closing remarks for the ceremony.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
05/25/2016 08:30 AM
STILWELL, Okla. – The 69th annual Stilwell Strawberry Festival was held May 13-15, and as usual it brought thousands of visitors to Adair County. From a business standpoint, Cherokee Nation citizen and owner of Okie Joe’s BBQ Joe Fletcher said the Strawberry Festival is a boom for area businesses. “These are huge days for Okie Joe’s as well as the downtown economy of Stilwell. There’s 30,000 people who come to town for this event. It’s one of the biggest events in the state of Oklahoma. We’re proud to have it. We want to be a part of it, and we put everything we have into it. I would say this week in general, as far as business goes, is one of the biggest weeks of the year. We’ll probably (get) three times the business that we normally do.” Fletcher also said adding giant turkey legs to his menu during festival weekend has been a big success. “We specialize in barbecue turkey legs on festival day and will probably sell between 500 and 600 of them in the next few hours. This is a wonderful push for us before the slower summer season hits.” Miss Cherokee 2015-16 Jalisi Byrd Pittman said the festival has been a part of her young life. “It’s such a historic part of the town of Stilwell. They are known for their strawberries and have been know for their strawberries for as long as my family can remember. It is one of Adair County’s greatest celebrations. I would not miss this.” Along with the parade and strawberries, the Stilwell Festival also included a strawberry competition, beauty pageant, midway, car show, rodeo, live music and street vendors. Organizers also said next year’s festival would be the biggest yet. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the tribe was well-represented at the festival and for good reason. “Adair County is one of the most highly Cherokee populated communities that we have. The Cherokee Nation has tents set up. We have booths with all kinds of informational pieces, and over a dozen Cherokee Nation departments represented on floats in the parade today. It wouldn’t be the Strawberry Festival without the Cherokee Nation and it wouldn’t be the Cherokee Nation without the Strawberry Festival.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/24/2016 12:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On May 27, Cherokee Nation officials will honor Cherokee warriors who lost their lives while serving in the armed services with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cherokee Warrior Memorial. The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. next to the tribe’s Veterans Center and will include the raising of the flags, a performance by the Cherokee National Youth Choir and remarks by Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. After the ceremony, there will be a reception at the Veterans Center located at 17675 S. Muskogee Ave. For more information, call 918-772-4166.