National Consumer News

Essential health care resources to know about if you’re broke


Since even a minor illness could wipe out your emergency fund, it’s essential to have some kind of health insurance. Depending on your income, you might not have to pay for it if you buy through the health care marketplace.

That doesn’t mean your troubles are over. In some cases (including my own) “affordable” insurance amounts basically to catastrophic coverage. That’s because our deductibles are so high that we’re wary about seeking medical care.

Some people have no coverage at all. Either they don’t believe in the Affordable Care Act, or they (mistakenly) believe they’re so healthy they don’t need insurance.

The following health care workarounds will help folks with high deductibles, and also those who (for whatever reason) don’t have insurance.

Care on a sliding scale

Nationwide, more than 8,500 federally qualified health centers provide prenatal care, sick visits, annual checkups and ongoing care for babies and children. Some of these places also offer oral health, substance abuse, mental health and vision treatment.

State public health clinics provide varying degrees of basic care. Depending on where you live, you can receive ongoing exams, immunizations (including flu shots), family planning/pregnancy testing, well-child exams, mental health services and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics offers links to more than 1,200 free and low-cost healthcare providers around the country. You might find one in your area.

Finally, dial 2-1-1 (a nationwide clearinghouse for social services) and ask about care options in your area. For example, the North Helpline agency in Seattle hosts two clinics per week, one of them free to the uninsured and the other operating on a sliding-scale basis. Maybe something like that exists in your area, too, but you won’t know unless you ask.

Need a hospital?

Read your insurance policy to learn which hospital(s) the provider prefers. If you’ve just been hit by a truck, the paramedics will want to take you to the closest emergency room – and you should let them! But if you slip on an icy sidewalk or take a spill during a bike ride, you have the luxury of choice.

However, you may not need to head for the ER. Say you twist an ankle during a softball game or develop a fever and cough on a Saturday afternoon. Such issues could likely be handled by an urgent care clinic, which are staffed with doctors and/or nurse practitioners.

These “doc in the box” centers cost less and you’ll probably get treated faster there than you would at a busy ER. You might not even be charged for the visit if they want to refer you elsewhere. Find out which urgent care facilities are on your insurance provider’s preferred list.

Read more here.

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