Modern medicine can treat almost every condition, from a broken bone to covid-19 to major depression. but those treatments can be exorbitantly expensive.
If you’re one of the 8 percent of Americans without health insurance or if you’re worried you don’t have the money to pay for the care you need, you may feel left out of the health care system.
It can be confusing, scary, and stressful: Two-thirds of Americans worry about paying their medical bills.
If you don’t have insurance, can you get the care you need when you need it? Yes.
While it’s challenging to navigate the medical world without health insurance, it’s not impossible to get affordable care for you and your family, even if you don’t have the money to pay for a private plan.
In this article, I’ll help you understand your options for care if you don’t have insurance and are worried about money. I’ll talk about how much you can expect to pay for a health care visit if you don’t have insurance.
I will give you advice on what to do if you have a medical emergency and tell you if providers can refuse your treatment.
Finally, I’ll give you some tips to make health care more affordable when you don’t have insurance.
what are your options?
The type of health care provider you choose to see depends on what you need; for example, if you have symptoms of a heart attack, you will choose different care than you would when you had seasonal allergies.
Costs will vary based on your situation and needs, and keep in mind that not all providers charge similar fees, so it pays to do your research before you go to your local urgent care or provider office.
If you haven’t considered Medicaid as a possible health insurance option, do so before seeking treatment without insurance.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 expanded access to Medicaid for low-income Americans, although eligibility differs by state.
Your state government website is a good starting point for determining what low-cost insurance options might be available where you live. healthcare.gov also offers a price comparison tool to find health insurance plans.
If you’ve done all of this and still don’t have health insurance, here’s what you need to know about your options for care.
Outpatient clinics are small, private facilities that offer care for everyday, routine problems, and they’re everywhere: at your local pharmacy, supermarket, or even a kiosk at the mall.
These clinics are ideal for flu shots, minor wound care, immunizations, and treatment for allergies or minor seasonal viruses.
Outpatient clinics can be a sensible option if you want to avoid the cost and wait time associated with many primary care providers or an emergency.
However, outpatient clinics are not necessarily low cost. it’s easy to rack up unexpected charges, especially if you need any tests or lab work during your visit.
shop around and compare prices before heading to the nearest clinic. These types of clinics are also not always staffed by doctors and are not appropriate for more complicated medical needs and conditions.
Urgent care centers are similar to walk-in clinics: they are widespread in urban and rural areas and available to patients at short notice.
The main difference is that urgent care centers are more advanced health care centers that can often treat more serious injuries, such as fractures, sprains, and burns, as well as minor illnesses.
If your medical problem is serious or complex, but not life-threatening, urgent care may be the right option for you.
An urgent care visit is significantly more affordable than going to the ER. the average urgent care visit costs about $100 to $150 (although it can be a little higher for those without insurance), compared to $1,300 for the average ER visit.
If your condition is not an emergency, you can call the urgent care center ahead of time to ask about uninsured rates for the condition you are waiting to treat.
Some urgent care centers may also offer payment plans or sliding scale payments.
If you are uninsured, community clinics should be the first providers you look for.
many states and counties in the us. uu. have free clinics or community health centers that provide medical services at low cost to people without insurance or with no means to pay.
A quick search for “low-cost health centers near me” or a search of www.freeclinics.com can help you get started.
Once you find a clinic that might be a good fit, call ahead to see if they require appointments and how much you’re expected to pay, if any.
primary care provider
Primary care centers are not great for last minute emergencies, because you need an appointment.
But for other issues that can wait, calling to make an appointment makes it easier to ask about costs before committing to the appointment.
If you don’t already have a primary care provider, call your area for pricing and low-cost payment options for patients. you can also get primary care treatment with k health for $29 a month, which is cheaper than a copay.
If you have a provider you know and trust, ask their office if they can do a sliding scale model for patients who don’t have insurance.
the emergency room
Whenever you have a life-threatening medical emergency, you should always go to the emergency room for care.
Emergency rooms are equipped with everything you need to solve the most complicated and dangerous accidents or illnesses, or to admit you to a hospital if you require additional care.
The biggest drawback: ERs are notoriously expensive.
If your situation does not require immediate attention, consider an urgent care or community clinic as a better option.
how much does a doctor visit cost without insurance?
the average visit to a healthcare professional in the us. uu. in 2016 it cost $265.
however, this average depends on the type of provider you are seeing and the type of appointment.
For example, an average visit to a primary care provider costs $186, while a visit to a cardiologist costs $335.
People with insurance often have something called a copay, which means the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket before your insurance pays the rest of the bill.
Average copay rates range from $25 to $50 for most plans and services. Even for minor problems, it helps to have some form of insurance.
what if you have a medical emergency?
In case of a medical emergency, call 911 and/or go to the emergency room.
your life and your health are the most important priorities. You can always negotiate medical bills after the fact, although the process differs from state to state.
in new york, for example, you can file a dispute over medical bills you think are excessive. For people who are a certain amount below the poverty level, there is no fee associated with this process.
In the midst of a crisis, you shouldn’t have to worry about your health care costs. (we know that is easier said than done).
Try to focus on the here and now, and once the immediate situation is resolved, see what you can do to get financial assistance.
can providers refuse treatment?
It is illegal and unethical for medical institutions to refuse care to any patient in an emergency.
The Patient Advocacy Foundation establishes the following situations that qualify as an emergency: a life-threatening incident, an incident in which bodily function is seriously impaired, or any instance of a pregnant person in labor .
non-emergency situations are not so clear cut. In general, public institutions are better suited to low-income or uninsured patients than private institutions.
It’s always worth asking if a facility accepts patients without insurance; you can often look it up online. When you do your research on pricing, do a quick check to see what the institution’s policy is on caring for the uninsured.
tips to save money when you don’t have insurance
- check before you show up: Call local medical offices and health clinics to ask about health plans and prices. If you have an idea of the services you need, they should be able to give you an estimate of cost.
- Research your state’s Medicaid eligibility rules – Check your state government’s website to find out who qualifies for Medicaid where you live. If this is an option for you, it’s your best option for low-cost health insurance coverage.
- going to community health clinics: There are many places that specialize in caring for low-income or uninsured patients, and many are equipped with the technology and expertise to manage complex conditions. search for “low-cost health clinics” or “community health centers” in your city to get started, or search www.freeclinics.com.
- Choose urgent care centers instead of the emergency room for non-life-threatening situations: In an emergency, you should always go to the emergency room. but if you’re dealing with something less pressing, like a sprain, fever, headache, nausea, sti symptoms, or bladder infection, urgent care is a much cheaper alternative that can still see patients the same day .
- Be honest with your provider: Explain your financial situation to your provider and clinic administrative staff. there is no shame in wanting to know what things cost. and you should also feel empowered to ask questions before agreeing to further tests, screenings, or blood tests.
- Ask about payment plans: Your provider’s office, urgent care center, or emergency room may offer installment payment plans or other financial assistance so you can pay for your bills. bills over a period of time. this can ease the financial burden in the short term, but beware of any potential accrued interest.
- Remember that medical bills are negotiable – you have choices when it comes to how much to pay, even after the fact. If you receive a higher-than-expected medical bill, call the hospital’s billing department and explain your situation. If they can’t do anything to help, you can try applying for debt forgiveness from a non-profit organization that helps with medical bills.
- Try Virtual Care: Online providers can provide many of the same services as in-person providers, but at a fraction of the cost. At K Health, we can diagnose and treat conditions like allergies, UTIs, cold and flu symptoms, anxiety and depression…and just about anything else you might see a primary care provider for. We offer the same low rate to all patients, regardless of insurance status.
how health can help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download k to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text a healthcare professional in minutes.
K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.