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Can't afford health insurance? Your options

If you're one of the 50 million Americans without coverage, you still have some access to affordable care.

By Stacy Johnson Sep 30, 2011 10:31AM

This post come from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Chuck, a good friend of mine, has now been without a "real" job for more than three years. He does odd jobs to stay alive, and because he's skilled in both carpentry and mechanics, he gets by. But health insurance? Forget about it. So a few months back when he got too sick to function, he utilized what he considered his only option: the emergency room.


Chuck's not alone. According to the latest census data, there are now 49.9 million Americans without health insurance. It's a safe bet that many skip the doctor and use super-expensive emergency services. But if you're one of the uninsured like Chuck, here's something you need to know: You have other options.  


Federally qualified health centers. There are hundreds of federally qualified health centers nationwide. According to this page of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration's website, here's what they can do:
  • Checkups.
  • Treatment for illnesses.
  • Care for pregnant women.
  • Immunizations for children.
  • Dental care and prescriptions.
  • Mental health and substance abuse care.

These clinics price their services based on your ability to pay. To find one near you, go to the HRSA search page and type in your address. 


Medicaid. Another option for the low-income uninsured is Medicaid, state-run programs providing health coverage for families. As with Medicare, those who qualify receive all kinds of health services. While programs differ by state, most cover services ranging from eye doctor visits to hospice care.


To learn more about Medicaid, visit this page of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site. To find out if you qualify, you'll want to visit your state's Medicaid information site: Here's a list of links (.pdf file).


If you don't qualify for Medicaid, your kids may still qualify for your state's Children's Health Insurance Program. The eligibility cutoff varies, but "children up to age 19 in families with incomes up to $45,000 per year (for a family of four) are likely to be eligible," says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To learn more about these programs, check out this page of

Pre-existing conditions. You might also qualify for insurance through state high-risk insurance pools, designed for people who could normally afford insurance but have pre-existing conditions ranging from cancer to asthma that led to insurance denials.


That practice will be fully banned in 2014 because of the Affordable Care Act. Until then, can tell you more about each state’s high-risk pool program. If you've looked at this option before, look again: HHS made it easier and cheaper to acquire coverage last July.


Affordable prescriptions. Those with low incomes can often get prescription drug assistance, including free drugs. There are dozens of private and public programs available, way too many to list here. But that's OK, becasue we identified a bunch of them in a prior story called "Help finding discounted or free prescription drugs." In addition, some states have discount programs.


Also keep in mind that some pharmacies and grocery stores, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Target and Publix, now offer some antibiotics and common medications free or at rates as low as $4 for a month's supply. There's a big list of others at this page of


Free help finding help. There are organizations charging little or nothing to help people find insurance and health care they can afford.

Other solutions:

  • Catastrophic coverage. If you find that typical insurance is too expensive, do what I do: Get a high-deductible policy. These policies are much less expensive because you pay the first $2,000 to $10,000 of expenses yourself. While you'll pay out-of-pocket for things like doctor visits, at least if the worst happens, you'll be able to avoid going bankrupt. Plus, just being associated with an insurance company will often result in significant discounts. To find a high-deductible policy, try our insurance search tool.
  • Part-time work. Benefits packages usually come only with full-time employment, but not always. A number of companies, including Starbucks and Lowe's, offer insurance for part-time employees.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Oct 18, 2011 10:08AM
Although this information is better than nothing, keep in mind that for most people, getting Medicaid will take one to two years and then you are often denied.  My sister has gone through hell trying to get help.  This should not happen in this country, period.  Also, if you own anything or have anything you will be denied until you are broke.  If you paid into the "system" your whole life as my sister did you will still be denied.  She was told it takes on average two years to even get before a judge to hear your case!!  Doesn't matter that she worked and paid into the system that is supposed to be there to help her.  You will have to hire an attorney to get this help along with disability.  You don't "just get" because of your health issue.  My sister had a seizure which caused a serious car accident - broken neck, back fractures.  After time in ICU she was sent home with a neck brace and in pain for 3 months until the problem worsened and she was losing her ability to feel her legs.  Then they did surgery. But, she still has uncontrolled seizures and needs care for her back.  She can't work due to the seizure issue.  Doctors won't see her because she can't pay and has no health insurance.  Her doctor refused to come out of his office and go into the exam room to see her because she could not pay.  She did find a way to get her seizure medication at a reduced cost through the drug company.  I help her pay for her meds when I can.  But, now she needs blood work (hundreds of dollars) and until she gets that she can't get a refill on her meds.  Oh, and she has lost everything, is in debt to the tune of $250,000 for medical bills and had to hire an attorney to get Medicaid and Disability.  That attorney will take a portion of her disability checks for payment.  I'm stunned at how we treat our own citizens.  Its shameful.  The majority of bankruptcy's in this country happen due to medical bills.  It is not progressive and it does not help our nation economically.     
Oct 18, 2011 4:12AM

Most poor people don't know about these options because very few articles, and no advertisements about them have been published. It was only by chance that I saw this one.

Apr 16, 2012 7:35PM

This is very informative, but seems to be inaccurate. As usual, the premiums for my state's high risk pool have increased. They always offer you that as a suggestion, but who can afford well over 1,000 per month for a premium for one person and then pay the high deductible and copay that goes with it?


The only hope for those of us with pre-existing conditions is that the Affordable Healthcare Act stays in tact and is able to proceed so insurance companies can no longer line their pockets while the rest of us suffer.

Nov 11, 2012 6:27AM
My wife has been out of work for 5 years. I have been working temporary jobs for the last 4 years. Health insurance is way too high to afford coverage for my wife who has a mental condition. She doesn't qualify for Medicaid as she makes more than the $655 limit to qualify. She has student loans and credit card debt. I can't keep my head above water as we have some bills to pay. I still think requiring health insurance is a violation of our First Amendment rights. If you don't have a job, you should not be obligated to pay for health coverage. This country is going bankrupt. All I wanted was the pre-existing condition requirement banned. I can't find a high enough paying job to pay for this high cost health insurance to cover my wife.
Apr 8, 2013 6:50PM
Can't afford health insurance? Your options- MSN Money : Try this site where you can comapre quotes from different companies:
Nov 11, 2012 1:20PM
Went to the web site to find a free/low cost clinic near me, the nearest one was ALMOST 25 MILES AWAY!!! The nearest emergency room? About 10 miles...

What ELSE would you expect in America-SCREW the poor!!

Oct 3, 2011 9:17AM
This is an excellent article.  Most poor people don't know about these options because they are functionally illiterate.  Medicaid has always been there for the poor.  The problem is, you have to know how to fill out paperwork and lots of poor folks don't know how to do that because they received such bad educations or no education at all.
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