January 29, 2013

Health Centers Provide Low-Cost Care

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The Shawnee clinic run by Gov. Mary Fallin’s aunt is among dozens of community clinics in Oklahoma that serve areas with a shortage of primary-care providers.

The clinics play a critical role in providing basic care to the uninsured and underinsured poor.

Some clinics, like the one in Shawnee, get most of their support from private donations. Others receive significant federal funding along with payments from patients.

The Oklahoma Primary Care Association represents about 50 community health centers located in medically underserved areas—a federal designation—around the state. Eighteen nonprofits operate those centers, which charge fees on a sliding scale for patients up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Most are in non-urban areas.

In 2011, about 135,000 patients were treated at the clinics, and 40 percent were uninsured, said Brent Wilborn, director of public policy for the Oklahoma Primary Care Association.

Wilborn said the role of the health clinics in providing access to treatment is “absolutely critical.

“Even with insurance, people have limited choices when it comes to accessing preventive care or maintenance (treatment) of chronic illness,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services operates a website where one can enter a state, county, city or address to find a nearby community health center.