Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

'Private Sector Solution': Community Health Network Aims to Fill Unmet Needs of Oklahoma's Uninsured

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

'Private Sector Solution': Community Health Network Aims to Fill Unmet Needs of Oklahoma's Uninsured

Article excerpt

Teresa Thompson is like tens of thousands of people in Oklahoma County: She doesn't have health insurance and receives medical care at a free clinic.

Thompson has lupus, a chronic auto-immune disorder, so she is unable to work. Her husband was laid off a few years ago and now neither has health insurance. Her husband is a welder and master carpenter, but Thompson said he hasn't been able to find permanent, full-time work. The unemployment insurance benefits have run out.

"We're just stuck," she said.

She said she is grateful for the care she receives at Good Shepherd Ministries in Oklahoma City. Good Shepherd Ministries is one of several free clinics that are part of the newly formed Oklahoma County Community Health Network, which is aimed at coordinating patient referrals and creating a case management system.

Stanley Hupfeld, chairman of the board of the Health Alliance for the Uninsured, said his nonprofit was seeking a better system to treat uninsured people. For many uninsured people, their first visit to a health care provider is in an emergency room because they can't afford to see a regular doctor. Not only is this an expensive way to treat people, it also drives up the cost of insurance for everyone else. There is likely little follow-up, and health issues often continue, Hupfeld said.

The Community Health Network will assign a case manager who can track people whom free clinics serve. The network will also act as a specialty referral system and arrange follow-ups with a primary caregiver, like the doctors at Good Shepherd Ministries.

"This is a private sector solution to what is often a governmental problem," Hupfeld said.

He said he isn't sure that this is the best model to serve people who are uninsured and people who don't qualify for Medicaid. Recently Gov. Mary Fallin decided not to expand the state's Medicaid program, which leaves about 100,000 to 150,000 people without an insurance safety net, Hupfeld estimates.

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