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Access to health care
Few of us actually enjoy going to the doctor. However, when we get sick, quick access to a doctor is a privilege many people do not have.
Access to care is not easy for many Oklahomans, and the barriers are numerous: insurance status, available hours, the need for specialty care, and the need for continuity of care. There are a few innovative things going on to address this challenge. One of them is Variety Care, a system of community health centers in Oklahoma, which has helped make quality health care affordable and accessible in three primary ways:
—providing sliding-scale billing for uninsured patients. Variety Care’s board sets fees for uninsured patients that are discounted based on the federal poverty level. This allows those with the least to access a medical visit for as low as $25.
—opening the clinic for extended hours and offering care to the whole family. Variety Care offers evening and weekend access at many of its locations. In addition, the clinic sees children, adults and seniors, which helps parents in the “sandwich generation” navigate care for all of their loved ones at one location.
—using our foundation to promote patient equity and positive outcomes through community philanthropy. The Variety Care Foundation provides many resources and lots of leverage to expand access rapidly. Our strategic plan is to increase patient capacity from 56,000 this year to 100,000 by 2014. The foundation raises funds that help vulnerable patients access care that otherwise would be out of reach, like restorative dental procedures.
That last item defines my role, which is telling the story of Oklahomans whose health can be improved through donations from the community. When people learn more about what Variety Care does and how we operate so efficiently, they are always impressed. Variety Care’s annual cost per patient is $490, dramatically lower than the U.S. average of almost $9,000. Plus, we help save the overall health care system money by providing primary and pediatric care for a population that would normally seek such care in an emergency room. In turn, those tax dollars that would go to hospitals to help cover ER losses can instead go to build parks, schools and bridges.
Variety Care is continuing to find innovative ways to expand our capacity to meet the health care needs of Oklahomans. We are working to support a massive dental care expansion in south OKC, a new, comprehensive, primary care health center in northwest OKC, expanded partnerships for behavioral health care, two new OKC public schoolbased health centers and a public-housing health care partnership.
These projects will make a tremendous difference in increasing quality of life for everyone in our community, while saving all of us precious resources. Thousands of Oklahomans will gain access to the care they need that many of us may take for granted. And that, in and of itself, is a part of the American dream.
—Andrew Rice Oklahoma City
is executive director of the Variety Care Foundation, which provides
community awareness and philanthropic support to Variety Care.
Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.