TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Despite its high percentage of uninsured residents, Oklahoma trails 48 other states in garnering its share of federal funding to provide health care for those without insurance, according to state officials.
“We are so far behind other states. But we've made a lot of progress in the last five or six years,” said Judy Grant, director of community development for the Oklahoma Primary Care Association.
Oklahoma has 11 federally qualified health centers, or FQHCs, a designation that brings block grants and other benefits to help states provide primary medical care to the uninsured, regardless of the patient's ability to pay.
Nationally, the average number of FQHCs per million residents is 11.5, according to the University of Oklahoma Center for Health Policy Research.
Oklahoma's ratio is 4.6 sites per million residents, second lowest in the nation, data show.
“We're trying, but we have a way to go yet,” Grant said.
Even Rhode Island, the smallest state in the country, has more than twice the number of FQHCs as Oklahoma, she said.
Oklahoma has more than three times that state's population, with 18.4 percent of the population uninsured, according to the United Health Foundation America's Rankings 2006 report.
In comparison, 11.4 percent of Rhode Island's population is uninsured, the report said.
Oklahoma fell behind from the beginning when President Johnson created the program in the 1960s, said Michael Brown, director of the Oklahoma State Health Department's Office of Primary Care and Rural Health Development.
Grant said funding for new centers dried up during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, but the program was revived by President Bush in 2001.
Before Bush's initiative in 2001, Oklahoma had only four FQHCs. Now with 11 centers, the state has made great strides since then but still has catching up to do, Brown said.
An estimated 700,000 Oklahomans are uninsured, a fact that continues to burden the state's hospital emergency rooms with those patients seeking primary care, Brown said.
“There is a great deal of pressure in the state to step up and help ensure services for the uninsured,” he said.
Grant said three more applications are going in this month during the latest application cycle, which is focused on high-poverty counties. In Oklahoma, only Sequoyah, Alfalfa and Comanche counties qualified to apply and are seeking FQHC status.