Health care is starting to become the dividing line between the “haves” and the “have nots” in this country. Most bankruptcies, before this housing crisis, are filed because of the astronomical cost of a medical bill.
This post is a discussion of how to obtain low cost health care options when we cannot afford health insurance or are uninsurable.
When you cannot afford health insurance
Everyone in my family have been without health insurance at some point in their lives. Unusually it is during that stage when we are without a job or our employer do not provide a group health insurance plan. When we are young, we did not understand the full financial implications of what could happen.
The welfare system provides health insurance for the poor. But unless you are pregnant or have children, you do not even qualify. This leaves a large amount of the population that have to find other options for health care. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, supposedly people who have not been able to afford coverage will now be able to but that remains to be seen.
Low cost health care option 1: Financial aid at hospitals
Most hospitals require a certain percentage of their budget for charities cases. If you are in a situation where you need health care for a life threatening health condition, seek out the financial aid department.
Sometimes it could take weeks or months for them to process your application, but in the meantime, you do not have to pay for the hospital bill.
Dave from Chronicles of a Cancer Patient ended up paying $10,000 for his $350,000 cancer treatment by using the financial aid from the hospital.
There is a good article on Wisebread that gives more information about applying for financial aid from a hospital.
Low cost health care option 2: Government sponsored health care centers
Government sponsored health care centers are not free clinics, but they have a sliding payment scale that depends on your income. The less you make, the less you pay. These health care centers are regulated by the federal government and they usually are located in less affluent neighborhoods. You can find the local government sponsored health care center at the Health Resources and Services Administration.
I grew up with health care from our neighborhood government sponsored health care center. I got my shots and other preventative care from the nurse practitioners and doctors staffed at the center. Sure their equipment might be less shiny, but they are still cleaned. What counts is that they have what they need to provide low cost health care when you cannot afford health insurance.
Low cost health care option 3: Convenience Clinics at retail chains
Convenience walk-in health care clinics located at some Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, and Walgreens are another low cost health care option. Often you only pay a flat fee (and financial aid is also available for their charity cases) for basic health care such as a flu, infections, rashes, or other preventative health care.
Rite Aid’s walk-in health care clinics (they called it Sutter Express Care) are staffed by nurse practitioners from Sutter Medical Group. I have not seen my doctor for the last 1.5 years. Since I am with the Sutter Medical Group, when I visit the walk-in clinic I only pay my $15 co-pay. No appointments, no waiting, and plenty of time to talk to nurse practitioner on duty.
The reason why I keep returning to my local Sutter Express Care is the “plenty of time to talk to the nurse practitioner” factor. I often feel rushed at my doctor’s office. When my allocated 15 minutes are up, I could feel my doctor mentally moving onto the next patient even when she is still physically with me in the room.
Walgreens’ version of the walk-in health clinic is called the Take Care Clinic. Right now, they are providing free health care for anyone (and their families) who have recently lost their jobs and no longer have health insurance as part of their Take Care Recovery Plan. You can find the applications for this Take Care Recovery Plan here.
Wal-mart”s walk-in health clinic are independently staffed by a 3rd party. You can find more information about their health clinic on their website. Since I refuse to shop at Wal-mart, I do not have any experience with their walk-in health clinics.
Low cost health care option 4: Planned Parenthood
Like the government sponsored health care centers, you pay what you can afford at a sliding payment scale. You could get most of your reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood. Be sure to called ahead first to get an estimate of how much you would be charge for the visit.
I have also used Planned Parenthood during my college days when I was without health insurance. Like the government sponsored health care centers, there is often a wait at Planned Parenthood and they are located in less affluent neighborhoods. I have seen both men and women at Planned Parenthood. As a college student, making less than $10,000 a year, I never paid a penny for pap smears and birth control.
In addition, the State of California has a program to provide affordable health insurance for pregnant moms. If you meet the income limit requirements, you’ll only need to pay a few hundred dollars for the medical expenses of the entire pregnancy and delivery.
Low cost health care options are great, but I have a prescription
After a trip to these low cost health care options, you have a prescription. Now what? Stay tune for a future post on getting low cost prescription medication. Since I write as the mood strikes me, I could safely say that my next post would probably not be another lengthy post like this one.
If you want to get a notification for this future post on low cost prescription, you can subscribe to this blog or leave a comment. I will personally email you the link once I post the article.
Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.
Kayak photo by: Thomas & Dianne Jones.
Woman in doorway photo by: CIA DE FOTO.
Boy and girl photo by: Arwen Abendstern.
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