By Lauren Blanchard, Community Outreach Coordinator, Crozer-Keystone Community Health Centers
What happens when you have no health insurance and you get sick? Maybe you wait until you’re really sick. Or until you’re really, really sick. Eventually, you go to the emergency room, but what happens next? You still need follow-up care but have no insurance. You may have lost income from being too sick to work, but you still have to pay for the hospital bill.
You should never wait to receive medical care, even if you become uninsured. In fact, seeing your primary care provider or family practice doctor for routine preventive care and sick visits becomes even more important when you are uninsured so that you can avoid costly hospital bills and control chronic conditions.
The best thing you can do for yourself during stressful times is to be proactive and involved in your own health. Be sure to let your provider know about health issues as they arise. Be honest about difficulties you may have with following through with your provider’s instructions or with buying and taking your medications. Remember, your primary care provider is here to keep you healthy! They will listen and work with you to create a plan that is achievable, effective and will control your healthcare costs.
Many offices and laboratories have self-pay discount rates for uninsured patients and may even offer financial assistance and payment plans. Your primary care provider can assist you with getting your medications direct from the pharmaceutical company or through assistance programs. If you need routine diagnostic studies such as a mammogram, lung cancer screening or colonoscopy, there are programs available through local hospitals or charitable organizations to ensure that you don’t miss a screening. Just because you are uninsured doesn’t mean you can’t get medical care.
If you do not have regular income or have fallen on difficult times, it can be challenging, confusing, and stressful to find the help you need. Here are a few places to find assistance and direction-
Start with your provider’s office!
They are a good resource for information on medical insurance. They will be able to tell you which plans they participate in and may be able to direct you to resources that can assist with your application for healthcare benefits.
Contact your local County Assistance Office.
There are many public and private programs available to assist people who are low income or have irregular income. These programs act as a “safety net” to protect people against bankruptcy, homelessness, utility shutoff and serious illness. There is no shame in asking for help if you are having a difficult time making ends meet.
Go to your local public library.
They will have computers that you can use to research programs, apply online for benefits and often have workshops, classes and events to educate and assist the community. Your librarian may also have a listing of local agencies that can assist you, or direct you to local government representatives.
Contact your local government officials.
State representatives, senators, congressional representatives or council representatives have offices that are conveniently located in the community and are an excellent resource for assistance and direction when you do not know where to turn.
Apply for benefits through the Healthcare Marketplace.
Enrollment for the Healthcare Marketplace is only open until Feb. 15, but if you lose your benefits due to a life changing event, you can apply at any time of the year. The Healthcare Marketplace will use your income information and household size to determine your eligibility for cost-sharing reductions, income tax credits or state Medicaid programs. If you are eligible for state Medicaid benefits, the Healthcare Marketplace will automatically forward your application to your local County Assistance Office.