Free and Low Cost Medical Programs

The expense of medical care can make basic treatment cost prohibitive for the underinsured and uninsured. You may be surprised to know that millions of US residents are still living without insurance. Millions more are “underinsured,” meaning that they carry only catastrophic insurance. These plans offer affordable monthly premiums, but the tradeoff is deductibles that can be in the $5000 range, more than most families can afford to pay.

It is widely known that medical facilities cannot turn patients away because of an inability to pay; however, use of their hospital services may result in extortion-level bills that take eons to pay off. If you are uninsured or underinsured, you are wise to seek out affordable providers before an emergency arises.

Although you probably won’t hear ads for low-cost medical assistance for the uninsured during primetime, assistance does exist. In fact, a variety of programs and initiatives are available to help.

 

Search for Medical Facilities

Community Health Centers – There are Community clinics in both urban and rural areas. They are government funded and serve the community. They are open to all community members regardless of whether they have private insurance, Obamacare, Medicaid or Medicare, are under-insured, or are uninsured. Most centers provide prenatal care, baby shots, general primary care, referrals for specialized care, mental illness services, substance abuse support, HIV/AIDS testing, and treatment, etc. You may have to pay for services, but the fees are usually substantially less than a hospital, urgent care, or private doctor’s office.

Sliding Scale Fee Facilities – A sliding scale facility offers variable pricing for services based on the patient’s ability to pay. These facilities consider the patient’s income and may inquire about assets. Facilities operate on a predetermined equivalency: what you pay is based on your family income.

School Wellness Centers – Some larger high schools in urban areas offer medical services for students, including treatment for sick students, lab work, routine checkups, sports physicals, immunization, mental illness, and substance abuse support. Check at your teen’s school to see what, if any, services it provides.

Free Clinics – Non-profit, non-government, privately-owned and operated facilities may provide services only to persons with no insurance who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. They may extend services to the underinsured who have only catastrophic care coverage with high deductibles. Services are available to undocumented aliens.

Clinics offer basic services such as treatment for illness or injury, long-term chronic conditions, some lab work, some prescription drugs, women’s health, and possibly dental care. They may not be able to help with chronic pain because they often do not carry the license necessary to distribute narcotics.

Non-profit Organizations – The Susan G. Komen Organization is just one example of a non-profit organization which funds community programs. Their local affiliate programs provide services such as free mammograms to uninsured women.

 

Where to Find Providers

Several databases are available to help you search for services in your area.

Needymeds.org is a comprehensive database with information about low-cost facilities with sliding scale facilities. Additionally, it lists facilities that provide some financial assistance. You will want to read carefully, not assuming that all facilities listed provide free services.

Health Resources and Services Administration is operated by the US Department of Health and Human Services. This site is considered to be the most current, complete source of information on community clinics.

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is another program of the US Department of Health and Human Services. This database has information beyond free and low-cost providers and expands to a wide range of providers including community clinics, hospice care, hospitals, dentists, and other providers.

The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics operates approximately 1200 Charitable Clinics nationwide targeting the “underserved.”

 

Getting Your Own Insurance?

Free or low-cost insurance is available to families and individuals with limited income. Because insurance plans are managed at the state level, you will need to investigate what’s available in your state. Thirty-one states plus the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid. Under expanded Medicaid, your family income may be 133% of the poverty line or even higher, depending on your state’s plan.

Your eligibility for low-cost care programs and discounts is determined by where you fall within state guidelines for income and household size. On nearly all health care websites, the first information you are asked to provide is your zip code. From your zip code, the site will direct you to plans available in your state.[1]

Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or Marketplace? – After giving basic personal information including your income and household size, you may be directed to Medicaid or the Marketplace. In either case, look up the Medicaid standards for your state. If your annual income falls below the line set by your state either under Medicaid, Expanded Medicaid, or CHIP you may apply for Medicaid. It is not necessary for you to enter the Marketplace and choose your coverage if you are eligible for Medicaid.

Federal subsidy? – If you make too much for Medicaid, you may still qualify for a federal subsidy toward your monthly payments. The Marketplace will automatically calculate your subsidy. 8 of 10 uninsured individuals are eligible for some subsidy in the Marketplace.

 

Why Is There Such A Debate Over Healthcare?

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, many Americans anticipated a universal insurance provision giving all residents access to free care. The actual legislation fell well short of this goal: a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office predicts that there will still be 30 million uninsured nonelderly Americans in 2024.

For the uninsured or underinsured, the need to find low-cost medical assistance has never been greater. Researching services in your area can and making use of specific clinics and providers with manageable fees can save you hundreds of dollars in medical bills.

Notes
1. “Will You Save on Health Coverage?” . HealthCare.gov

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