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Oklahoma representative joins health caucus across six states to improve access, affordability

Oklahoma State Capitol Building
Kyle Phillips
For Oklahoma Voice
Oklahoma State Capitol Building

Rep. Ellyn Hefner (D-Oklahoma City) became the co-chair for a nonpartisan health caucus spanning six states, which will draft policy related to affordability, access and the health care workforce.

Hefner’s first in-person meeting with the caucus was at the Heartland Summit last week, which invited policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and other leaders to share ideas on improving outcomes in heartland states. The Heartland Health Caucus includes representatives from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Members of the caucus will run a bill with nuances to fit each state represented by the group. Heartland Forward, the nonprofit behind it, will help states research to see what’s possible in their communities.

Hefner said the caucus discussed policy related to the ‘last mile’ of rural care and access, which refers to people who aren’t being reached by health care services. They talked about everything from maternal and infant health, rural and underserved areas, and health care workforce shortages.

The caucus was particularly interested in increasing the number of community health care workers, who typically reside in the community they serve and work to bring information to underserved areas to reduce health disparities in them.

“The leaders in the group at the health care summit were very pleasantly surprised that we all came to a consensus so quickly,” Hefner said.

Hefner has an extensive background in health, having served on Oklahoma's Developmental Disability Services advisory committee and worked as a health coordinator with Oklahoma Family Network. But she said her main connection to health is her son, who was born with a brain injury.

She said as a consumer and user of early intervention programs like Sooner Start, her experience in health policy has been centered around how things impact her son and his friends. She said she enjoyed hearing about how other caucus members and their families interact with health care systems, which helped start meaningful conversations as they worked together on policy.

“All of a sudden, we're building on those relationships that aren't easy, but I think this Heartland Summit Caucus gave us that start, and it's my choice and other people's choice on how much effort they want to put in,” Hefner said. “Collaborative working is how I like to work, and so it's one of the best conferences and a great caucus meeting with support.”

Oklahoma will be the first state to see policy from the caucus, with an initial bill deadline of Dec. 8.

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Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.
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