OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KSWO) – State Rep. Sean Roberts hosted an interim study on improving healthcare outcomes before the Oklahoma House of Representatives Public Health Committee to examine possible strategies and incentives to improve outcomes and access to healthcare, particularly in rural Oklahoma.
"Those who live in rural areas in our state often have limited access to healthcare services or physicians," said Roberts, R-Hominy. "I requested this study to see what the Legislature can do to help in this area."
Erick Polak, vice president for administration and finance at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, spoke about the rural physician pipeline and its active engagement in rural and underserved communities as well as a number of programs in place intended to address the shortcomings. He said there are multiple barriers to practicing primary care in rural Oklahoma, including financial issues resulting from the state's current reimbursement system. He suggested lawmakers' attention to this area would create better healthcare outcomes.
Carter Kimble, director of state and federal policy with the Oklahoma Health Department, gave a broader view, saying the state places 45th nationally in terms of health outcomes. He detailed measures the state has taken to improve in this area, including legislation passed this year. Kimble recommended lawmakers look outside the traditional healthcare setting at areas such as education and workforce to continue to improve outcomes. One focus is on continuing the work to lower the use of tobacco products in the state, he said.
Brent Wilborn, director of public policy at the Oklahoma Primary Care Association, and Dr. Steve Ramirez, the chief medical officer of Variety Care, both spoke on the benefits of community health centers, which they said can provide healthcare and attract ancillary businesses to rural communities. Ramirez said Oklahoma has some of the best healthcare providers in the country; the problem for rural residents is getting access to them.
Presenters spoke about the need for more funding, greater access to healthcare facilities as well as insurance coverage, and a need to recruit more healthcare providers to rural areas.
"As we prepare for the next legislative session, we will take these matters to heart," Roberts said. "It's important that all residents of our state have access to the best services to improve and maintain their health and wellness."