REALITY CHECK: Oklahoma's Uninsured Shrinking

Wednesday, August 26th 2009, 9:25 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The number of the state's uninsured actually shrunk in the last four years.  Yet, more than half a million Oklahomans still go without health insurance.  Oklahoma has made some gains, but that was before the recession hit.  The reality is health care coverage can depend a lot on where you live.

About 18% of Oklahomans don't have health insurance.  That's slightly higher than the rest of the nation.  And, that number can balloon, depending on what part of the state you live in.

When you picture Oklahoma's uninsured, do you see a child in poverty or someone like Lynn Wilson who's in her 60s?

Well, the reality is the typical person without insurance in Oklahoma isn't a child or a senior, but someone in the middle.  More than 40% of Oklahoma's uninsured are 19 to 34.  Another 35% are 35 to 54.

"We know that most of the uninsured are working or in a household where at least one adult is working," said David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Blatt works for the non-partisan think tank, the Oklahoma Policy Institute.  He says seniors can be covered through Medicare and most children are covered through Sooner Care, which is Oklahoma's version of Medicaid.

"Very often that adult population makes too much money to be eligible for public health insurance. But, often doesn't make enough to be offered or be eligible for private coverage," said David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority reports rural Oklahomans are slightly more likely than their urban counterparts to be uninsured.

Tulsa County bests Oklahoma County, although unlike much of the state Tulsa's estimated rate of uninsured inched up recently.

Adair County has one of the highest rates of uninsured with almost 30%, but people with only Indian Health Coverage are counted among the uninsured.  American Indians make up 40% of Adair County's population.  But, the raw data is more than just numbers, it's dollar signs.

The uninsured still get sick and they still get care in emergency rooms across the state.  

"The numbers are really staggering," said David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Blatt estimates it's about $1.5 billion to $2 billion every year and it's the insured who are picking up the tab.

"Which then drives up the costs of premiums on those with insurance by considerable amounts, over $1,000 a year," said David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

St. John Medical Center estimates they spend about $60 million to treat the uninsured.  The uninsured numbers were gathered through a survey and it only measures those who were uninsured on the day the surveyors called.  So, people who were temporarily without coverage could inflate the numbers.

Oklahoma Uninsured by County 2009