LETTERS 

Oklahoma Gazette provides an open forum for the discussion of all points of view in its Letters to the Editor section. The Gazette reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity. Letters can be mailed, faxed, emailed to pbacharach@okgazette. com or sent online at okgazette.com, but include a city of residence and contact number for verification.

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

Rice
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.

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