February 5, 2009

The Healthcare Hustle

“You need surgery”

“SURGERY! I don’t have insurance!”

“I’m sorry I can’t help you with that…”

I severely fractured my finger and was given my options - perform surgery for $5000+ or cast it for $500 and risk recovering full function. Neither option is appealing.

Forty seven million Americans are currently uninsured. According to CoverTheUninsured.org, people ages 25-34 are the most likely to be without coverage. Conversely, children, pregnant women, and the elderly are enjoying the actualization of subsidized coverage that’s long since been an obvious necessity with Federal programs such as Medicaid, SCHIPP, Medicare, and the recent passing of a Congressional bill to extend coverage for children. State programs provide even more support for the above niches and families.

Meanwhile, twenty- and thirty-something’s wait for the new administration to slowly phase in universal coverage of some sort, but the hard truth is that we will be the last to see it. Many of us are not eligible for Medicaid, cannot afford COBRA or even a bare-bones emergency health plan.

We do the health care hustle.

Free clinics can provide you with low-cost care and some free services like testing and vaccinations. In some areas there are even traveling clinics if you don’t have a way to get to the office.

Unfortunately, the quality of care is very low. If you have a cold, this is fine, if you have food poisoning or a broken bone, this is not fine. Urgent care centers or hospitals enter the scene. In my experience, urgent care often asks for a large deposit upfront and are limited to what they can do. Hospitals will not charge you anything up front and you will receive great care. If you feel that there is no way you can pay the anticipated bill, say so while you are there.

Many hospitals are non-profit and receive special benefits from the State, like exemption from property taxes, in exchange for giving a certain percentage of charity care to people who don’t have the means to pay. They are required to give someone free care so it may as well be you, be pushy if you can’t pay! If you have the means to pay, but not all at once, you can usually negotiate either a lower bill or a payment plan.

If you need help paying for your prescriptions there are some great state, local, and even private programs that can help you out. Start at your State or County website. I have a Care Mark Prescription discount card that I ordered from Nassau County which gives me half off prescriptions ordered at the counter and even more off prescriptions ordered by mail. You can also look to pharmaceutical companies for help. They already look so bad, they need poster children to boost their rep. If you call them and are deserving (or convincing) they may pay for your meds.

Networking is under-rated when without health insurance. Talk to your friends, see if any of them are tight with their doctors or have doctors in the family, they can refer you and you may get a deal.

The bottom line is knowledge is power, especially without health insurance. You are your own best advocate so put in the work and you’ll be okay!

This post was written by Leah Bush, a freelance writer, volunteer blogger for the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, and aspiring Guru whose past involvement includes the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Recovery Project and volunteerism in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Questions regarding this post may be forwarded to ultraEchelon@gmail.com.

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