According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 50 million Americans were uninsured as of 2010. In many cases, being uninsured is attributed to a lack of employer-provided coverage or an inability to purchase private insurance due to lower income or preexisting conditions. However, if you’re one of the millions of Americans who is currently without insurance coverage, it is still possible to secure quality health care without breaking the bank. If you need an affordable way to cover your medical costs when standard health insurance is not available, consider the following alternatives.
1. Visit Free And Low-Cost Health Care Clinics
A visit to the emergency room for a minor illness or injury can leave you with a hefty bill. Instead of heading off to the ER, consider visiting a free or low-cost health care clinic instead. A number of retailers, including Walgreens and CVS, offer on-site clinics where you can receive inexpensive treatment for minor medical issues or pick up prescriptions for certain drugs such as birth control pills.
If your illness or injury is more than just a cold but doesn’t require emergency care, you may also consider visiting an urgent care facility in your area. Urgent care centers offer walk-in services for patients with acute illnesses or who require care for injuries above and beyond what is provided at a retail clinic or primary care facility. According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there are currently more than 8,700 urgent care practices operating nationwide. While there is usually a fee associated with a visit to an urgent care provider, it’s typically much less than you would pay for an ER visit.
You can also take advantage of health fairs offered in your area. These types of events allow you to seek routine medical and dental care at no cost. Depending on the organization sponsoring the health fair, you may be able to get a blood pressure test, cholesterol screening, dental checkup or advice regarding any health issues you’re experiencing for free.
2. Apply For Government-Funded Medical Care
The federal government sponsors a number of health care programs designed specifically for low-income families and individuals who are unable to purchase health insurance on their own. If you’re over 65 or under 65 but have a permanent disability, you may qualify for Medicare coverage. Medicare provides health care coverage for qualifying individuals but the program does require you to pay certain premiums. (To learn more about what is covered under Medicare, see What Medicare Covers: Health Coverage For When You Retire.)
Medicaid provides health care coverage to qualifying individuals, including children, pregnant women, senior citizens, parents, adults and individuals with disabilities. The program covers the cost of doctor’s visits, emergency care, prescription drugs, long-term care, vaccinations, hearing care and vision care. Eligibility for Medicaid is based on your age, income and family size.
If your income is just over the limit to qualify for Medicaid, you can also seek medical care through the Hill-Burton program. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Hill-Burton program provides free or reduced cost health care at a number of medical facilities nationwide. Eligibility is also based on income and family size and you must apply for services with your local Hill-Burton facility.
3. Choose A Direct Primary Care Provider
An increasingly popular alternative for those who can’t afford high monthly insurance premiums is direct primary care. Direct primary care providers cut out the insurance middleman and allow you to pay a low monthly fee for unlimited office visits. The fee covers basic primary care and depending on your provider, may also cover certain lab tests, x-rays and treatment for minor injuries. The fee typically ranges from $50 to $60 per month and may be lower for children.
While direct primary care is an affordable choice, there are some drawbacks. Direct primary care providers are not available in every state and there may be restrictions on who can participate in these programs. In addition, these types of programs do not cover hospitalization, surgery or more extensive specialty care.
4. Take Advantage Of Prescription Drug Discounts
Prescription drug costs can be a major budget buster, but there are ways to afford your medication if you don’t have health insurance. A number of companies offer prescription drug discount cards which allow you to save as much as 75 percent off the cost of certain prescriptions. These cards are typically free but they can only be used for certain medications at specific pharmacies. Generally, you can get discounts on both brand-name and generic drugs used to treat common health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and allergies.
If you need help with more than just medications, NeedyMeds.org is a charitable organization that helps consumers find information on prescription drug discounts as well as discounts on medical equipment and supplies. The organization also maintains a list of resources for illness-based assistance, state and government-funded health care programs and free or low-cost clinics.
Being uninsured doesn’t mean that your health (and your wallet) has to suffer. By taking advantage of these and other low-cost resources, you can ensure that you and your family are able to receive medical treatment without incurring a significant expense.