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Here Are Free or Discounted Healthcare Options If You’re Underinsured

Image: Pan American Health Organization / Flickr

There are some very real dangers that come with being underinsured, both to your health and your finances. We offer 6 possible options to look into if you find yourself underinsured.

Going without health insurance is a recipe for trouble. Whether it’s skipping out on preventative care, foregoing important prescriptions, or suddenly being hit with massive healthcare costs, being underinsured comes with a litany of risks. What you may not know is that even having an insurance plan sometimes isn’t enough. Millions of Americans are underinsured, and they face many of the same health and financial risks as those with no healthcare coverage at all. If you’re underinsured, we looked into some free and discounted healthcare options to supplement your coverage.

The Underinsured Crisis

Though specific definitions vary, a person is generally considered “underinsured” if their out-of-pocket medical costs equal ten percent or more of their annual household income, or if their health insurance deductible equals five percent or more of their income. In effect, an underinsured person has insurance that’s too inadequate or too expensive to effectively cover many of their medical costs.

Though the number of uninsured people has dropped significantly in recent years, the problem of the underinsured has only grown. Nearly a quarter of all adults with health insurance in the United States are considered “underinsured”. According to a 2014 survey by The Commonwealth Fund, that’s more than 31 million people. Among this 31 million, half of these underinsured adults reported struggling with excessive medical costs, and 44 percent have gone without necessary care for financial reasons.

The Consequences of Underinsurance

There are many consequences and risks associated with being underinsured.

1.) Many of underinsured people avoid routine checkups, vaccines and other medical services that have been shown to reduce health risks and improve overall quality of life.

2.) Underinsured people also frequently delay or refuse medical care in the event of an accident or illness, let alone costly prescriptions.

3.) At-risk children and people who have special healthcare needs suffer greatly from being underinsured, often require services simply too costly even with basic insurance.

The Financial Risks of Being Underinsured

Being underinsured also poses a financial risk. Faced with needing to receive health services, those who are underinsured often find themselves trapped with overwhelming medical debt.

1.) High deductibles or out-of-pocket costs often mean huge medical debts accumulate quickly in the event of an illness or accident.

2.) Life savings are often left depleted due to all that medical debt.

3.) About a third of underinsured people ultimately turn to credit cards to help cover the costs. Thanks to high interest rates and other fees, this frequently leads to even greater debts that often run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

4.) In about seven percent of cases, inadequate insurance eventually leads to bankruptcy. Even for those who manage to avoid catastrophe, damaged credit scores and impaired borrowing ability are common.

Access to Free/Discounted Healthcare

If your health insurance doesn’t do enough to cover your medical costs, don’t avoid that trip to the doctor. Instead, check out the following tips for gaining access to free or discounted health care.

1. Find a Community Clinic

Community clinics may have a reputation for substandard care, but the reality is that most clinics offer a level of care comparable to private clinics for a fraction of the cost. Community clinics typically work on a sliding scale, meaning that you’ll be charged for any services based on your income level and ability to pay. In some cases, you may not be charged anything at all. Training clinics are another affordable option, particularly for services like mental health and dental care.

2. Visit Planned Parenthood

Regardless of your insurance status, Planned Parenthood is often a great way to find quality care at an affordable price. Planned Parenthood offers a range of services, from routine medical care and checkups to mental and reproductive health, and their clinics typically operate on a sliding scale similar to community clinics. Financial assistance may also be available for certain services, and costs for health care are generally lower than at hospitals and private practices.

3. Explore Government Resources

If inadequate insurance and sky-high out-of-pocket costs have made healthcare a challenge for you, there may be government resources available to help:

These are just a few of the many government-backed resources aimed at assisting uninsured and underinsured people. To find the programs best suited to your needs, contact your local Office of Public Assistance or Social Services.

4. Have Your Debts Forgiven

Being underinsured can lead to massive debts in the blink of an eye, with total debts often running into the tens of thousands of dollars. About 44 percent of underinsured people ultimately experience damage to their credit scores as a result of this debt, and many others face depleted savings and serious lifestyle changes.

One potential lifeline is medical debt forgiveness. Depending on your circumstances, hospitals may be willing to forgive part – or even all – of the amount you owe if you are unable to pay. There are no guarantees, but if you find yourself in dire financial straits, it’s worth contacting your hospital’s billing department to inquire about the possibility of forgiving or reducing your debts.

5. Opt for a Cash-Only Medical Provider

As the name suggests, cash-only medical providers only accept cash payments. Often referred to as concierge medicine or direct primary care, these facilities cut out the bureaucracy of the health insurance claims process and instead deal directly with their patients. Because they typically require less staff and administrative overhead, these facilities are often able to pass those savings on to their patients in the form of lower prices and more flexible payment options. Many such clinics offer the option to pay in installments, and some also use sliding payment scales to deliver care that’s affordable regardless of income level.

6. Take Advantage of Health Screenings

In addition to the threat of huge debt, bankruptcy and plummeting credit scores, being underinsured also invites the risk of foregoing regular checkups and leaving potential health conditions undiagnosed. One option for combatting this risk is to take advantage of free health screenings. Hospitals and clinics often host screenings throughout the year for common health conditions ranging from high cholesterol to diabetes and various types of cancer. Keep in mind that these events may or may not be advertised in the community, so it’s best to call local medical facilities from time to time to inquire about upcoming screenings.

If you’re one of the roughly 25 percent of adults whose health insurance simply isn’t adequate to cover your medical costs, finding and paying for care can be difficult and frustrating. Don’t give up hope or delay getting the care you need. Follow the tips above and you can find help with a wide range of medical services, all with little to no additional cost to you.

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This article is provided to you by Credit.com. 

Maricel Tabalba: Maricel Tabalba is a freelance contributor for Credit.com who is interested in writing about personal finance for millennials and college students. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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