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Lack of insurance or timely access to your regular doctor doesn't have to mean going without needed health care.

If you're uninsured and seeking stopgap medical care before you find coverage again, you can triage your way to better health by understanding the trade-offs of several care options, experts say. A retail clinic, urgent care facility or community health center may be a suitable fit, depending on the severity of your medical need and your personal preferences.

A broad spectrum of care is available, from the limited offerings of a retail clinic to the high-end capacity of an emergency department, said Ateev Mehrotra, a policy analyst at Rand and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

"They're all places you don't need an appointment, there's open extended hours, and they're there to treat people who can't get in to see their regular provider," Mehrotra said.

If you have a regular doctor you'd like to keep seeing but fear you can't pay full price because of lost coverage, give the doctor a chance to work out a charity care arrangement, payment plan or possible treatment changes to lower costs, said Dr. Lori Heim, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, who practices in Laurinburg, N.C.

Most doctors will try to work with patients to ensure their continuity of care, she said. "Physicians also value that personal relationship that develops."

Still, a shortage of primary care physicians has left many scrambling to keep up with patient demand. The wait time for appointments can be a deal breaker, forcing patients to look elsewhere for care.

Retail clinics

Convenience and expense are two reasons uninsured patients who suspect they have a routine minor ailment -- such as the flu, strep throat, simple bronchitis or a skin condition -- should consider visiting a retail clinic, Mehrotra said.

Retail clinics also typically offer vaccinations and physicals for school, camp or sports on a walk-in basis, and most are open evenings and weekends. They can be found in national chain stores such as Walgreens and CVS/pharmacy, as well as hospital systems. They're staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants who can diagnose and treat ailments and prescribe medication.

Unlike emergency rooms and other health care settings where there's no way to know how much the final bill will be, retail clinics post their prices on menu boards and often online.

Patients "know exactly what they're going to pay," Mehrotra said.

CVS/pharmacy stores, for example, have 500 MinuteClinics in 25 states. They're all open seven days a week and have weekday evening hours. The average cost of treatment is $62, said Andrew Sussman, the president of MinuteClinic, based in Minneapolis.

"It's Sunday morning and your 10-year-old has a sore throat and a fever," Sussman said. "We're a good option for people."