Saturday, April 21, 2012

50 Resources for When You Need Medical Care

Since I'm in a listy mood today and also because this question has come up about a half dozen times on one of the message boards I frequent and since I used to work in social services where we would need to hunt down medical care for people who couldn't afford it (yes, we are envious of our Canadian friend's medical care system!) I thought I would share this list of resources for medical care options for people who don't have many.  Here goes:

  1. See if there is a free/sliding scale/community health clinic in your area.
  2. And check here too.
  3. And here.
  4. For free and low cost prescriptions check here.
  5. There are more prescription assistance programs at the bottom of this page.
  6. There is a national program that offers free mammograms and pap tests for women who qualify.
  7. You can call 211 or go to for local info on free and low cost medical services in your immediate area.
  8. Call your local university or college and see if they offer any sort of medical or dental care (some of these programs need patients to practice on so they offer low cost or even free care--supervised by a real doctor or dentist, of course).
  9. Know that certified hospitals in the US can't turn an emergency patient away from their hospital, they must stabilize the patient and offer some sort of basic treatment before releasing you even if you can't pay.
  10. Obviously in an emergency situation you should go to the ER (you will get a bunch of huge bills later for this visit).  If this happens to you, ask the hospital about their charity care program and about making payment arrangements (some people pay $10 a month towards their debt if that's all they can afford which is better than having the bills sent to collections).
  11. If you need quick but not emergency medical care, consider going to an urgent care clinic instead of the ER (the visit will be much cheaper).
  12. Check out what services your county and state department of health offer.  Services may range from vaccinations and well baby programs to STD testing and free child safety seats.
  13. Also ask this question of your local fire department (fire departments where we used to live used to provide free diabetic and blood pressure checks if you dropped by the fire house).
  14. Keep your eyes peeled for health fairs in your communities.  We used to run annual health fairs and would provide a huge range of free medical services (medical, STD, and pregnancy testing, dental check ups, vaccinations, etc).  These events were usually well publicized by the local media.
  15. If you are elderly, low income, or otherwise in need, go to your local welfare office and see what programs you qualify for (medical coupons, WIC, well baby care, food stamps, etc).
  16. If you are a veteran, check with your local Veteran's Service Center and VA hospital and see what kind of care you qualify for.  Check back with these places on occasion since programs and funding change, what isn't offered this year may be offered next year.
  17. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or local senior services center and check out what programs they offer (again, these programs can vary based on grant and other funding for programs).
  18. Check current healthcare laws.  For example, college students can remain on their parents health insurance until they are 26 as long as they are in school.
  19. I wouldn't actually recommend this but it is an option that some people have chosen.
  20. Be a medical tourist.
  21. Google your problem.  Obviously if you are in an emergent medical situation, skip the computer and get thee to a hospital but for less emergent problems you might want to Google the problem or post on message boards to gather more information on the problem.
  22. Try home remedies.  Again, if you have having a medical crisis, the best place to be is in a hospital, but for many less severe medical issues people have turned to home remedies for centuries.
  23. If you have unique medical issues (chronic medical problems, XYZ syndrome), get hooked up with message boards and websites specific to the problem that may carry cutting edge info on the topic (these boards and websites may also alert you when new drugs are released, clinical trials are taking place, etc).
  24. Participate in clinical trials.  Again, this isn't something I would recommend without doing a lot of research beforehand.
  25. Google low income health care for your city and state. This is what I found for my area.
  26. Find a job that provides health insurance (unfortunately these are getting harder and harder to find).
  27. Join the military (I've known people who received their first medical care ever when they joined the military!?!  And it's free).
  28. Based on your age, sign up for Medicare when you qualify.
  29. Based on your disability, sign up for Medicaid if you qualify.
  30. Establish a relationship with a private practice doctor (they may charge considerably less than a hospital visit, especially if you pay cash instead of making payments).
  31. Sign up for catastrophic medical insurance (the premium will be much lower than having comprehensive full-care insurance).
  32. See if other insurance will cover you (ie: if you were in a car accident, your car insurance may cover your medical care).
  33. If you lost your job, see if you are still covered under COBRA.
  34. If you are a college student, see what care is covered by your student health center.
  35. See if you are covered by other health care plans (ie: a state high-risk plan, a small business association plan, etc).
  36. Check out organizations that help the uninsured here and here and here.
  37. Ask about bartering.  Usually this works with private practice doctors and dentists.  I once helped a flooring installer barter his services to get his mother false teeth.  It was a win-win for everyone.  There are also more formal arrangements like this.
  38. Some good mental health crisis care can be found for free online.  I often recommend this site, this site and this site for people in crisis.
  39. Marry someone who has good health insurance.  Obviously this isn't the ONLY reason to marry someone but I've recommended it a couple of times to people in need of healthcare with a SO who had insurance that would cover them after marriage plus I knew that they were already talking marriage (it just speeded up the process and saved the person a lot of uninsured medical care costs).
  40. Convenience clinics are starting to pop up these days.  They are even cheaper than urgent care clinics usually.  I just noticed one new chain at Walmart.
  41. Piece out your health care.  Vaccination from Walgreens or a similar pharmacy, contraception from Planned Parenthood, etc.
  42. See what new legislation will bring.  Obamacare is tied up in the courts right now but if it goes into affect, it will have a massive impact on healthcare in our country.
  43. If you are a member of a tribe, see what services are available at your tribal clinic (if you are American Indian and not registered with a tribe but can get registered, this may be one option so that you will qualify for healthcare).
  44. Consider opening a Health Savings Account (this isn't much help if you need help NOW but over time adding money to this account can help with major medical expenses).
  45. Last resort: holding fundraisers, adding donation links to your website, making your cause go viral (people do this who need major medical care when there is no way they would be able to pay for it themself such as a kidney transplant, etc).
  46. Seek out specialized care (such as free care for children with burns or orthopedic needs at Shriner's Hospital or receiving vision care from Lions Clubs).
  47. Check out peripheral resources (such as the local Hospice organization for end of life care, CraigsList for cheaper used medical goods such as hospital beds and wheelchairs, and Compassionate Friends for support after a child has died).
  48. Some people make trips to Canada or Mexico to buy prescription meds much cheaper than they can find in the US.  Ditto for ordering medications online.  I tend not to recommend this because it can be illegal if not downright dangerous (when you buy pills online from who knows who is selling them you could be getting sugar pills for all you know).
  49. Ask for free things.  Doctors often give free sample medication to patients, my dentist recently gave me a free set of xrays and exam because he knew I would be back to have a crown done, a friend (somehow) talking his doctor into giving his a free biopsy for what was thought to be cancer (it wasn't but how he got a surgery suite for free was beyond me).
  50. Random stuff (not that I necessarily recommend these things and in fact they all sound illegal but I've heard of people doing this): using veterinary grade medications to treat themselves (no prescription needed), using a friend's health insurance card to get care (illegal and clinics are getting wise to this), having a baby with a midwife instead of in a hospital to save money, having doctors and dentists from other countries perform procedures on them here in the US (these people are unlicensed and while the price can be cheaper, the cost of someone's life due to infection or a botched procedure isn't worth it in my book), staying super healthy through nutrition and exercise so they won't need to go to the doctor.
Yikes, I'm rereading this list and the state of American medical care looks pretty pitiful indeed.  Unfortunately as more and more people become uninsured this is often how they piece together healthcare for themselves and their family.  It's pretty scary.  It's pretty pathetic (especially for a country that provides massive amounts of funding to other countries to help people there while our own people can literally die in the gutter because they can't get basic health care).
The bottom line is that if you are having a healthcare emergency, get to a hospital for care and worry about the bills later.  Your life is that important.  


  1. I am a dual USA - Canadian citizen as was born in Colorado and immigrated to Canada before my first birthday. The great healthcare system and how seniors are treated (my Mom is still here and all 6 brothers and sisters who live in the USA have a much tougher time) and low crime keep me here. I love the USA but can never live there as I have been too spoiled now.

  2. Certainly, everyone needs at least basic health insurance coverage. However, try to upgrade when you have saved up enough money.