Aug. 30-- Oklahomans in the more rural areas of the state are least likely to have health insurance while suburban areas have the highest coverage rates, according to data released Wednesday by the United States Census Bureau.
More than one in five Oklahomans younger than 65 are without health insurance, putting the state at sixth-worst in the nation for an insured population, according to bureau figures.
Tulsa County reported 21.8 percent being uninsured, an increase of 6.8 percent in 2009 and just below the state average of 21.9 percent.
The state had a 3.7 percent increase in uninsured residents from 2009 to 2010. Cimarron and Harmon counties had uninsured rates higher than 30 percent while Cleveland, Rogers and Canadian had rates lower than 18 percent.
The numbers are significant because people without insurance end up costing more money because they go to an emergency room instead of a primary care physician, said Dr. Gerard Clancy, president of the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine.
Care in the emergency room costs more and by the point someone needs it, the patient's condition has worsened and may require more treatment.
"It's pretty well documented that those without coverage do not seek help until it's an emergency situation," he said.
Hispanics had the highest rate of uninsured in Oklahoma with 38 percent with blacks at about 23 percent and whites about 18 percent.
Men were more likely than women to be uninsured. About 20 percent of women are uninsured and 23 percent of men.
About 10 percent of those younger than 19 were without insurance in 2010, down from 11.8 percent the year before.
Oklahoma, however, still ranks toward the bottom in the number of insured children.
Some of the decrease can be attributed to more children getting on the state's Medicaid program, said Carter Kimble, spokesman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
Part of the improvement, he said, is due to outreach and enrollment efforts by the OHCA, the inclusion of dependents in the Oklahoma Insure program and a slight recovery in the economy.
The number of uninsured Oklahomans who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level is 35.2 percent. If state lawmakers expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, it would include residents of that income level and would have a dramatic impact on the number of uninsured, said David Blatt, president of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
Parts of the law like providing subsidies to low income people to buy insurance and tax credits for small businesses would bring the number of uninsured down, he said.
"As we move toward implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a little over a year from now this is going to be a huge, huge change in the health insurance landscape," he said.
Clancy said chronic conditions that develop without preventive care can keep people from working, putting a further drain on the economy and doesn't help unemployment figures.
Blatt said those without health insurance are more likely to be in worse health and not get the care they need.
When hospitals are forced to provide uncompensated care, they pass the costs on to others, he said.
"This is something that is affecting all of us, whether you have insurance or not," he said.
Shannon Muchmore 918-581-8378
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