Press Release: Uncompensated Care Fund Eliminated
October 16, 2017 – Today, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Uncompensated Care Fund will be entirely eliminated due to the agency’s budget constraints. Community health centers in Oklahoma rely on the Uncompensated Care Fund as a payer of last resort for uncompensated costs from uninsured patients. Oklahoma has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country, and Oklahoma community health centers are critical to providing to care to the 16% of Oklahomans who remain uninsured. Last year, one in three patients seen at a community health center did not have insurance but was able to access care on a sliding fee scale based on income.
When the uncompensated care fund was drastically cut in 2015 due to budget cuts and revenue failures, health centers responded by having to reduce services, and two locations serving rural Oklahomans closed. The fund was reinstated but temporarily eliminated in 2016. Community health centers are located in medically underserved areas and provide invaluable services to their communities, but when state support disappears, community health centers are forced to scale back. When communities lose access to affordable primary and preventive health care services, patients delay care until emergencies strike, and the high costs of uninsured emergency care are passed on to other providers and to the public in the form of cost hikes.
Community health centers have strong bipartisan support, but they face uncertainty at the federal level as well. The Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Health Center Fund are two of the programs that Congress failed to reauthorize in September for the current federal year. Though legislators at both the state and federal level argue that funding will be provided for health centers to continue to serve their 200,000+ patients, uncertainty leaves community health centers with more questions than answers. State lawmakers should act quickly to provide funding to protect the Health Center Uncompensated Care Fund and to stabilize the Oklahoma health care system.
Posted on Mon, October 16, 2017
by Cassidy Heit