McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

July 21, 2013

CRATER JOBS: When the government starts helping low-wage workers pay for health insurance next year, 6,704 Oklahoma cooks will be left empty-handed.

By Warren Vieth

McALESTER — So will 6,154 cashiers, 4,572 waiters, 4,207 maids and housekeepers and 3,870 retail salespeople, an Oklahoma Watch data analysis shows.

They are among 185,815 uninsured Oklahoman workers whose annual incomes fall below the federal poverty level, making them ineligible for health insurance tax credits that take effect in January. Most of them also are ineligible to participate in SoonerCare, Oklahoma’s version of Medicaid, because it doesn’t cover working adults unless they have dependent children, and then only if they make less than about $5,000 a year.

The Oklahoma Watch analysis uses the most recent Census Bureau data to determine which occupations and employers have the largest number of uninsured working people who will remain stuck in the health care “coverage crater.”

The analysis shows that many hold low-wage jobs in construction, food service, retail establishments, janitorial firms, landscaping services and nursing homes—sectors responsible for some of the highest rates of job growth in recent years.

One of them is Christy Johnson, a single mother who works for minimum wage as a telecommunications customer service representative. Her employer doesn’t provide health insurance. She doesn’t think she could afford her share of the monthly premiums even if it did.

“No, I wouldn’t have a couple of hundred per month for that,” she said. Her 13-year-old daughter is covered by SoonerCare because she’s a minor, but Johnson doesn’t qualify. So she has come up with her own alternative health care plan to deal with occasional illness: “I take NyQuil.”