If you don't have employer-sponsored health insurance and you can't afford private insurance, you aren't totally out of luck. There are a variety of options for receiving preventative care, sick care and medications that can help keep you healthy without making you bankrupt.
State health departments and public health centers are often an affordable source of basic healthcare needs such as immunizations, family planning, women's health, children's health and STD testing. Some even offer more advanced services like cancer screening and treatment.
The New York State Department of Health, for example, offers HIV testing and anonymous counseling as well as a variety of health insurance programs for people who may not be able to afford care, such as pregnant mothers, children and the elderly. Some states even offer services you might not expect - for example, the Texas Department of State Health Services offers hemophilia assistance and epilepsy services. (Getting your own policy isn't easy or cheap but in some cases, it's well worth the effort, read Buying Private Health Insurance.)
Some Conditions May Apply
Some states' public health services are only available to low-income individuals and families, either at no charge or on a sliding fee scale, but others are available to everyone for a reasonable flat fee. Services and fees vary by state.
Drugstore clinics provide an array of basic health services such as cholesterol screening, smoking cessation and TB testing, and treat common ailments like ear infections, strep throat and skin rashes.
Prices are meant to be affordable (Wal-Mart's (NYSE:WMT) clinic states that the average visit costs a patient $65 or less) and many of these clinics are open seven days a week to both the insured and uninsured with no appointment required for many services. Also, unlike many doctors' offices, a list of all services offered, with pricing, is readily available up front, often through the drugstore's website.
These clinics may be staffed by nurse practitioners and/or physician's assistants, so if you need an experienced doctor, store clinics may not be your best bet, but for basic services, they can work out well.
Prescription discount programs can save you money on medication. Quite a few pharmacies now offer such programs. Rite Aid's prescription discount program offers over 500 generic medications at a cost of $8.99 for a 30-day supply or $15.99 for a 90-day supply. Wal-Mart's popular program offers a 30-day supply for $4 or a 90-day supply for $10, of over 1,000 common over-the-counter drugs and several hundred generic prescription drugs at common dosages.
Cash-strapped patients who have expensive prescriptions not covered by these programs should discuss their options with their doctors.
Price research on doctor's office services can also help reduce medical bills. Though doctors don't commonly advertise their fees, they should have a list of prices from which they can estimate the total cost of your visit in advance based on the services you're likely to need. Fees for the same services can vary considerably by provider and by location. If you live in the middle of a major metropolitan area, you may find that prices are lower in the outlying suburbs. It's also worth asking if the doctor offers a discount if you pay in full and in cash at the time you receive treatment. (Learn more in our Health Insurance Tutorial.)
While you should never sacrifice obtaining quality healthcare just to save a buck, and these options often don't provide coverage that's as comprehensive as that provided by insurance, these reduced-cost choices may serve you better than going without treatment altogether and can help you get by until your situation improves.