OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A task force set up by Governor Kevin Stitt made recommendations Tuesday that would give more Oklahoma mothers access to state health care coverage.

“HELP,” or Helping Every Life and Parent, was set up after the state banned abortion, making it a felony.

It is composed of 11 members.

With abortion no longer legally available, the goal of the task force is to find ways to promote pregnancies and provide more resources for women.

Two recommendations were voted on in the group’s first meeting.

They were presented by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

One proposal would increase the income threshold for pregnant individuals in Oklahoma from around $18,000 to $28,000. OHCA said it would provide 2,500 more women with access to SoonerCare.

The second proposal would expand the duration of postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months.

“In a state where we have failed to make significant investments in things like health and where we have particularly bad health outcomes, it’s a really good first step towards better supporting Oklahoma families,” said Emma Morris, policy analyst with Oklahoma Policy Institute.

The task force brain-stormed other ideas to improve care for pregnant moms.

Those ideas included:

  • making adoption a household idea
  • getting more fathers involved in the pregnancy/post-pregnancy process
  • more access to mental health for mothers

“For the most pro-life, we’ve also got to talk about adoption and make that a top priority,” said Juli Merciez, the chairwoman for the HELP Task Force.

Her goal is to make Oklahoma the most pro-life state in the country. Merciez and other members said that normalizing adoption is a good way of getting there.

Andy Fugate, State Representative of Oklahoma City, was not at the meeting today, but was present at the Capitol. He was proud of the outcome to expand access to SoonerCare.

“I’m delighted to see the governor do this,” said Fugate. “I think the governor should have been thinking more proactively instead of reactively.”

Fugate said the task force is four years too late.

Governor Kevin Stitt released a statement in support of the recommendations passed at Tuesday’s meeting.

I fully support these recommendations to expand and extend care for new mothers and their babies,” said Governor Stitt. “Raising the income threshold will allow thousands of additional women in Oklahoma to have access to services that will reduce risk and create opportunities for better health outcomes for both them and their child. Ensuring more women have access to better, longer care is a positive step in the right direction for our state.”

The HELP Task Force will meet three more times over the next six weeks.

It will present a final report to Governor Kevin Stitt on October 28, just weeks before the November elections.

Members appointed by Governor Stitt include:

  • Juli Merciez, BSN, RN MPC, Co-Founder and President of The Cottage, a pregnancy center and residential maternity home;
  • David Lewis, CEO of Go Life Mobile Medical Inc.;
  • Dierdre McCool, Executive Vice President at Butterfield Memorial Foundation;
  • Dr. Michelle Brunnabend, D.O., licensed OBGYN, owner and physician at Aspen Women’s Center;
  • Gayla White, Director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries

Other members of the task force include:

  • Crystal Coon, designee for Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat;
  • Rep. Danny Williams, designee for House Speaker Charles McCall;
  • Lori Carter, First Assistant Attorney General, designee for Attorney General John O’Connor;
  • Sandra Puebla, Deputy State Medicaid Director, designee for Secretary of Health and Mental Health Kevin Corbett;
  • Samantha Galloway, interim Director, designee for Secretary of Human Services Justin Brown; and
  • Jackie Shawnee, chief of staff, designee for Commissioner of Health Keith Reed.