Okla. Lags in Children With Health Coverage

August 11, 2006

A new study shows Oklahoma lags behind other states in the number of children covered by health insurance, with about 17.5 percent of those up to age 17 lacking coverage.

The number of uninsured children in the state has declined 5.1 percent since 1997, but Oklahoma still has the second-worst track record in that area nationally, according to the report released Aug. 8 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Only Texas has a higher percentage of uninsured children: 20.7 percent.

The numbers of Oklahoma children covered by private health insurance plans have dropped 19 percent since 1997.

During the same period, however, the numbers of Oklahoma children covered by the Medicaid-sponsored SoonerCare program grew by 81 percent.

About 110,000 more Oklahoma children have SoonerCare than in 1997, according to the report.

“We think this is good news,” said Jo Kilgore, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which oversees SoonerCare.

Medicaid is a combination of federal and state funds.

Uninsured Oklahoma children are twice as likely not to receive any medical care during a typical calendar year, according to the report. Also, one in three uninsured children don’t have a personal doctor or nurse, the report said.

Kilgore said many Oklahoma families are eligible for SoonerCare but don’t apply for coverage.

For example, she said, a family of four making less than $37,000 a year is eligible for Medicaid coverage.

Kilgore said a recent rule change allows families to apply for Medicaid and get benefits for 12 months. Previously, a family had to apply for Medicaid coverage every six months.

The foundation report was released Tuesday to coincide with a nationwide effort to enroll eligible children in public coverage programs during the back-to-school season.

Information from: The Oklahoman, www.newsok.com.

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