More than a fifth of Oklahomans under the age of 65 do not have health insurance, giving the state the sixth highest uninsured rate in the nation.
More than 690,000 non-elderly Oklahomans, or 21.9 percent, were uninsured in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Texas had the highest rate, with 26.3 percent.
THE UNINSURED, BY COUNTY
Move your cursor over a county to see its percentage and number of uninsured people under age 65.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
In some counties in Oklahoma, a quarter to nearly a third of the population lacks health insurance. The highest percentages are found in smaller, rural counties, such as Cimarron County and Harmon County. Counties with higher poverty rates, such as in southeastern Oklahoma, tend to have greater shares of uninsured residents.
Oklahoma County's rate, 22.5 percent, is above the state average, and Tulsa County's, 21.8 percent, is slightly below.
There are many reasons why a state would have high rates of uninsured, said Judy Grant, director of community development for the Oklahoma Primary Care Association. In Oklahoma, in addition to poverty, many employers don’t offer health insurance, so even employees who work full-time are uninsured.
“It’s a delicate balance because we need a healthy workforce, but employers can’t always offer that coverage to their employees,” Grant said.
The problem with having so many uninsured residents is that more people delay seeking treatment and don't see a doctor regularly, which can mean cases of diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses aren't discovered until they become severe, she said. The treatment thus becomes more expensive.
Grant said greater access to insurance and more affordable community clinics are the best ways to catch these illnesses early and produce better health outcomes in the state. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is aimed at reducing the number of uninsured and saving on costs in the long term, but thousands of low-income Oklahomans will remain uninsured because the state is not expanding Medicaid.