If you don’t have health insurance, you’re not alone. In 2020, 31.6 million (9.7%) people of all ages were uninsured according to the CDC National Health Statistics Report. According to CDC data from 2019, about 8% of all emergency room visits were by uninsured patients. Uninsured patients have the right to proper medical care, and there are many ways to save money on out-of-pocket healthcare costs.
Medicaid is an accessible government-funded health insurance for US residents who meet eligibility requirements.
Community clinics, pharmacy clinics, and health department facilities all serve uninsured and underinsured populations.
Emergency room care costs significantly more than other types of healthcare when uninsured.
Hospitals cannot refuse to treat the uninsured under the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA).
Medical care options when you don't have insurance
You can get medical care without insurance and you have the right to receive adequate care regardless of your insurance status. Not having insurance means you’ll be labeled as “self-pay.” Even those with insurance opt for self-pay status from time to time. Going to an out-of-network beloved provider, getting a cosmetic procedure, or avoiding deductibles/co-insurance payments are some of the most common reasons. Here are some of the top ways to seek medical care without insurance.
1. Walk-in clinics
Walk-in clinics are clinics that don’t require an appointment, which is ideal for non-emergency care. A walk-in clinic can take care of anything from a sports physical to evaluating a urinary tract infection, and everything in between. A clinic is a lower level of care than an urgent care or emergency room, so the out-of-pocket cost is generally less expensive. Walk-in clinics are more likely to take any insurance or uninsured patients. By searching “walk-in clinic near me no insurance”, you’ll be able to find options near you.
Medicaid is a government-sponsored health insurance program for those with low income or with qualifying conditions, like a disability or pregnancy. Medicaid is run separately in each state, so you usually need to be a resident in the state in which you are applying for Medicaid. You also need to be a United States citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Go to medicaid.gov to check the financial eligibility requirements for your state, or for more information on how to apply.
3. Community clinics
Community clinics are designed to help underserved populations, which would include uninsured individuals. Many community clinics also offer care on a sliding scale so you are charged based on your income.
4. Pharmacy care clinics
A pharmacy clinic is a type of clinic operated out of a commercial pharmacy. Pharmacy clinics are also more cost-effective than urgent care or the emergency room, but they have more limited services. Pharmacy clinics are ideal for immunizations, screenings, tests (like flu or COVID-19 tests), and minor injuries and ailments. When searching online for a pharmacy care clinic near you, many of them will list the available services and prices offered at their location.
5. State or county departments of health
Departments of health are meant for communicable disease reporting, immunizations, STD/STI testing, or connecting with social service needs. These are government-funded departments, so the care is done at a lower rate (often in the $20 range). These are not clinics that can treat or help with acute illness or injury, but they can connect you with other clinics or services as needed.
6. University Clinics
University clinics often offer lower-cost services than traditional healthcare providers, have a focus on preventative care and wellness, and provide access to medical providers for students and the local community. Additionally, many university clinics offer services at reduced rates for students, faculty, and staff, and may offer sliding-scale fees for low-income individuals.
How much does it cost to see a doctor?
|Specialty||Without insurance||With insurance|
|Primary care||$186||$0 - 20|
|OB/GYN||$280||$20 - 50|
|Urgent care||$150 - 300||$50 - 100|
|Emergency room||$1,000 - $2,000||$50 - 150|
The cost of healthcare with insurance will vary widely depending on the type of plan you have. The numbers in the above table with insurance are based on co-pays after meeting a deductible, receiving care in the network, and receiving care that is medically necessary and part of the plan benefits. Co-pays are generally in the $0 to $150 range, with preventative care on the low end, and emergency care on the high end. Some plans may include co-insurance or don't cover all the services provided during an episode of care.
Tips on how to save money when you don't have insurance
Even without insurance, there are many ways to unlock healthcare savings.
1. Mention insurance status beforehand
Your healthcare providers care about providing you with high-quality healthcare. Most are not thinking about money or reimbursement when they take care of you. By mentioning beforehand that you don’t have insurance, your provider will think twice about the services and supplies they order for you. Many providers will be more conscientious to ask for consent before any cost-inducing procedures are ordered in a non-emergency situation.
2. Negotiate medical bills
The negotiation process starts at the healthcare facility you received care at. Let the hospital know you are a self-pay patient as soon as you can, and ask them what discounts or charity programs they offer. Some facilities provide self-pay patients with discounts. Non-profit hospitals are required to offer some type of charity care program.
3. Ask for a payment plan
Once you receive your medical bill, ask the hospital or medical facility if they will offer a discount for paying the balance in full. If you’re able to pay the full balance at that time, it’s best to do so to avoid any debt going to collections. If you aren’t able to pay in full, ask for a payment plan. Many payment plans are interest-free and allow you to pay based on a sliding scale.
4. Ask for generic medications
If your provider is prescribing you medications, let them know you don’t have insurance. In many cases, a generic medical prescription will save you money and provide you with the same result. When you pick up your prescription, talk to the pharmacist about drug-savings programs that could be offered for that medication. There are many savings programs available since drug companies and pharmacies both benefit from these programs.
5. Pay in advance
If you don’t have insurance, there are a few things you can do to plan. Lots of community centers, health departments, and pharmacy clinics post their prices online. Use that information to compare which locations are the most cost-efficient to determine where you should go to receive your non-emergent care.
As of 2021, hospitals are only required to post the price they negotiated with the health insurance company by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). This means that your local hospital systems should have a price list available online for their services. You can also call some of the local hospitals to ask for an emergency room self-pay cost estimate so that if an emergency happens, you know your preferred ER location. You can also offer to pay in advance for a discount.
Can hospitals refuse to treat you without insurance?
Hospitals cannot refuse to treat you in certain circumstances under the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA). This means if you are having a medical emergency, or are going into labor, you must be screened and stabilized wherever you present for care without delay. Once you are considered stable, you can be transferred to another appropriate facility to receive the remainder of your care, if determined necessary.
What to do in an emergency
In an emergency, don’t forgo seeking prompt medical care because you don’t have insurance. If you have a life-threatening emergency, call 911 or have someone take you to the emergency room. For urgent situations that are not life-threatening, seeking care at an urgent care facility will be more cost-efficient without insurance.
If you don’t have health insurance or if you are underinsured, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve adequate healthcare. If you’re one of the millions of Americans without insurance, consider applying to Medicaid and following the above steps to save on your healthcare costs today.
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