Nearly 50 community health centers are poised to treat the state's estimated 625,000 uninsured residents as well as those who don't regularly go to doctors, supporters of the nonprofit centers said Wednesday.
The centers provide affordable, high-quality health preventive, primary, oral and behavioral care, said Greta Stewart, executive director of the Oklahoma Primary Care Association.
The centers accept patients on Medicaid and Medicare, as well as those who have insurance.
They also offer a deeply discounted pharmacy and a sliding fee scale for uninsured patients, who make up about 17 percent of the state's population, Stewart said during a news conference to tout the availability of the community health centers.
“Our health centers are open to everyone regardless of age or insurance status,” Stewart said.
“It is a known fact that it is cheaper to prevent than to treat, so access to basic health care for all Oklahomans makes a lot more sense.”
Oklahoma has 18 community health centers fielding nearly 50 sites across the state, and by the end of this year community centers will be available in 30 of the state's 77 counties.
They serve more than 130,000 patients annually; 40 percent are uninsured and 30 percent are on Medicaid, said Steve Ronck, deputy state Health Department commissioner for community and family health services.
Variety Care operates several community health care centers in the Oklahoma City metro area.
Barbara Wilson, of Tulsa, said she didn't know much about community health centers until she sought treatment about four years ago.
A former public school teacher who no longer had insurance coverage, Wilson said she went to Community Health Connection of Tulsa, where she sought and received good treatment.
“They were very caring and I found that they listened,” she said.
Wilson, 62, said she needed three different types of care, all of which were available at Community Health Connection.
“Because of the sliding scale, I was able to afford all three of those that I needed,” Wilson said.
The health centers in Oklahoma received $31 million in federal grants in 2010; they also received Medicaid reimbursement fees and money from state and local governments and foundations.
About 8 percent of revenues came from patients who paid for services themselves.
Ronck said Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation in the number of primary care physicians per 100,000 population.
“What that means is that Oklahoma does not have enough primary care physicians, compared to other states, to take care of our citizens,” he said.
Stewart said the community health centers are a medical home for many Oklahomans.
“It's the place where you go repeatedly to get your preventive and primary care,” Stewart said. “They're good places to get care.”
It is a known fact that it is cheaper to prevent than to treat, so access to basic health care for all Oklahomans makes a lot more sense.”