The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

January 26, 2013

Free clinic microcosm of Oklahoma's health coverage challenge


SHAWNEE, Okla. — ‘Trying to survive’

Standing at the head of the line in the clinic tonight is Brad Trice, 45. He’s divorced and lives with his father in Tecumseh.

Trice said he has been coming to the clinic for free prescriptions since his blood pressure skyrocketed to 250/170 several months ago, landing him in the hospital emergency room.

Trice said he hasn’t worked since 2010, when he lost his job as a certified nursing assistant at a Seminole nursing home. He hasn’t had health insurance since 2005, when he was working at a Walmart store.

“I’m just a human being trying to survive,” he said. “But we’re all doing that.”

On a previous visit, Trice asked the clinic for help with a badly ingrown toenail. He was referred to an outside physician, who wanted $250 to fix it. The clinic doesn’t offer surgical services.

Trice said he couldn’t afford to pay that much.

“It still hurts like a son of a gun,” he said.

Expansion plan

About 28 percent of Pottawatomie County residents between the ages of 18 and 64 had no health insurance in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That compared to 26 percent statewide.

Many of them would be eligible for government-paid health care under the Obama initiative, which would have expanded Oklahoma’s Medicaid program to all working-age adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level. That equates to $14,856 a year for a couple and $30,656 for a family of four.

Under existing law, Oklahoma’s Medicaid program excludes adults unless they have dependent children living at home and their income falls below a relatively low level — $4,368 for two people and $6,996 for a family of four.

Pottawatomie County is not as poor as some places in Oklahoma, but it fares worse than the state as a whole in most key economic indicators. Eighteen percent of the population falls below the poverty level.

Fallin grew up in Tecumseh, a community of 6,443 just south of the county seat, Shawnee. Both her father and mother were mayors of Tecumseh, and Fallin attended Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, before graduating from Oklahoma State University.

In a 2011 interview with the Tecumseh Countywide newspaper, Fallin said her original career goal was to be a social worker. She said she was inspired by her mother, who worked as a district supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

‘I need a job’

Marking time about half-way down the hallway are Jason and Linda Popielarski of Tecumseh. They are here to see a doctor about Linda’s sinus infection and to get her blood pressure prescription refilled.

Jason, a 37-year-old machinist, said he recently lost his job at Aero Components in Oklahoma City. Linda, 58, lost her job at Braum’s. The couple live on Jason’s unemployment benefits, which add up to about $18,000 annually, but which will run out before long.

“We’re barely surviving,” Popielarski said. “I need a job. All I have is my motorcycle to get around. I’m working on weekends in trade for a place to live.”

Popielarski said he hasn’t had health insurance in five years. Most machine shops nowadays don’t provide it, he said. “Or if they offer it, you can’t afford it.”

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