Being uninsured in America is a pretty awful feeling. Saddled with a perpetual fear that something will go wrong, it makes every day feel like it could end in catastrophe. Regardless of the reason you’re without health care–maybe you’re young, or you’re underemployed, or you’re a freelancer (like this gal), or or your work just doesn’t offer options (many don’t)–it’s downright terrifying. But until our health care system gets itself sorted out, there are ways to get care that is pretty affordable, accessible, and, while not perfect, gets the job done.
The first and most obvious choice for making sure you don’t, say, get hit by a car and land in the ER with a bazillion dollars in medical bills is to just buy individual insurance. But the problem with individual insurance is that it’s almost always supremely expensive for very little care. For example, a quick check on eHealthInsurance for an individual my age, in my state, is between $150 and $300 month.
Which, if you can afford, wouldn’t be so bad…except the deductible (the part you’d be asked to pay before your insurance would cough anything up) is between $1,000 and $2,500. So, while you get a quarterly office visit out of it, you’re also paying $1,800 over the course of a year for a service you may or may not ever use, plus as much as $2,500 for any procedures you may have. It also doesn’t cover dental or vision. This is not an ideal situation.
So, instead, most of us just go the out-of-pocket route because, barring a huge medical catastrophe, it’s almost always less expensive in the long run. Sure, it’s risky, but if you just can’t afford a few hundred every single month, it’s the only option.
If that’s the direction you go, there are plenty of resources that are affordable and–and this an important factor–accessible. Because a lot of primary care physicians just won’t see you if you’re uninsured, you have to find places where you can actually get seen for a rate you can handle.
The first step is to look to your local city or county government. If you’re really low-income, they’ll probably have resources in your area, possibly even to help cover the cost of medication or to provide mental health care, which is by far the most difficult and least affordable service to come by. You may also quality for Medicaid, which you can just Google around for. Be prepared to do quite a bit of paperwork–and start saving your pay stubs, if you don’t already.
If you’re not that hard-up, but do still need a low-cost care option, check out what kind of local clinics are in your area. Here in Seattle, we have one called Country Doctor which is a little terrifying, but it at least can help you get that UTI checked out. Most urban and even rural areas have some kind of an affordable clinic. Again, Google is your friend–and, when in doubt, just call and ask.
Women’s health care is actually not that hard to come by, assuming you live somewhere that hasn’t shuttered all of the Planned Parenthood branches. Again, most low-cost clinics can help you out with this–but Planned Parenthood or other women’s health-specific places tend to be less expensive, more knowledgeable, and less judgmental, which is important. And, in some states, there are assistance programs to help offset the cost, either slightly or entirely. Check with your local branch of Planned Parenthood or another women’s health care clinic to see what they offer. You can also ask about a sliding scale, or deferred payment options.
For your teeth and eyes, it’s a little trickier because most clinics don’t really deal with those specialities. But if you live near a university or community college you may be able to get some pretty cheap oral care by visiting the dental school. It’s kind of like getting your hair cut for free or cheap at a beauty school. Be warned, though–this method is a time-suck. Because the dental students are, well, students, the process is a lot slower than just visiting a dentist. Block out quite a bit of time for your visit.
Eye care, like glasses and contacts, is usually best to just to just pay for, provided you don’t have really special needs. You need to get your prescription reviewed every two years, which costs about $200. Still, that’s way less than it would cost to pay for it through insurance. You can also find coupons and deals for glasses and contacts, either through the web, or by checking in with your local pharmacy. Or, you can go the hipster route and get a pair of Warby Parker glasses, which are only about $100, ship right to you, and are really cute. $300 over two years? Not that bad.
Overall, how much you pay for your health care options is really down to what you need. For me, most of my medical costs come from my eye care and my birth control/women’s health stuff. And over the course of the year, that’s less than $1,000–which means individual insurance just doesn’t make sense. But if you’ve got a lot of high costs, or you need something more comprehensive, checking with a site like eHealthInsurance, which can find you the lowest quote nearby, can help you crunch the numbers and figure out what’s right for you.
Image by Flickr user 401(K) 2012