If you are without health insurance, you probably dread a medical emergency even more than someone with insurance might. For the 46 million Americans who don’t have coverage, hoping you don’t get sick is just a part of life. But what do you do when something serious happens and you or a family member absolutely must see a doctor?
The good news is that emergency care is the one aspect of medicine that is available to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act of 1986 ensures that you cannot be denied help. But where should you go? It all depends on the nature of your emergency and how much time and money you can spare.
1. Emergency Rooms The most common suggestion for the uninsured is to go to the emergency room, where no one can be turned away, but this is often unnecessary and inconvenient if it’s not a life-threatening emergency. If a patient is seriously wounded or suffering from the symptoms of heart attack or stroke, an ER is the only real option. But for almost anything else that doesn’t involve the threat of immediate death, not only will the emergency room treat you after they have treated all the more serious conditions, they will also send you quite a steep bill – more than you would pay at most other medical facilities – which can be packed with ridiculous fees.
2. Urgent Care Facilities
Urgent care is a cheaper and easier alternative to the emergency room, and they can treat a wide variety of conditions, from illnesses to broken bones. While you’ll still pay a fee to see a doctor at urgent care, it will be much lower than the ER, and most of them operate on a sliding scale and are willing to negotiate with you.
More and more urgent cares are operating on extended hours, some 24 hours a day, to make their services even easier to compare with that of an emergency room. They’re a good place to go for a less dire emergency, where you can end up spending no more than a couple hundred dollars instead of thousands.
3. Retail Clinics
The clinics in pharmacies and other chain stores are usually very convenient for customers and charge much less than a regular medical facility. However, they’re not a good place to go if you have a serious physical injury – more like a serious fever or case of the flu. If you’re looking for quick and affordable ways to get antibiotics and other important medications and don’t mind sacrificing a little in comprehensive treatment, they can be a great option.
4. Nonprofit Clinics
There is at least one free clinic in almost every area, and depending on what city you live in, there can be other charity and community health centers as well. Most people without insurance flock to these organizations because they typically charge little to nothing and are staffed by dedicated volunteers. However, it can be very hard to rely on them for emergencies because of how strapped their resources are, and the fact that they usually operate on a limited, appointment-only basis.
Finding healthcare when you’re uninsured is undeniably very difficult, but it’s not impossible.
If you’ve recently lost your insurance, it’s a good idea to talk to your family doctor about payment plans and ways for you to continue care, so you can help make a medical emergency less likely to happen. But accidents can happen at any time, and it’s good to know that hoping you don’t get sick isn’t the only option to save your life.
Sheri Clark writes for healthcare blogs, offering information on walk in medical clinics and various healthcare options