Health Coverage, Programs Available for Uninsured

September 21, 2009 7:35:42 PM PDT
As the debate over health care reform rages on, an estimated 46-million Americans could be one illness away from financial disaster.Kathleen Sweet has no insurance to pay for her diabetes medication. She nearly died recently from heart and kidney failure.

If, like Kathleen, you have no health insurance, Consumer Reports says before a crisis hits, you should check whether you qualify for government insurance programs.

Consumer Reports Nancy Metcalf said, "See if you qualify for Medicaid. And even if you don't, your children may qualify for the Children's Health Insurance program, or CHIP. And that's very good coverage."

Information is available at InsureKidsNow.gov. If you don't qualify for Medicaid, some communities have federally subsidized health-care centers that offer basic care. These clinics treat everyone, and charge according to your income.

Mike Jenks said "I'm so glad for this place because I can come here and get medical attention."

Consumer Reports says for routine care, avoid the emergency room. Go there only when you have a real emergency.

"Hospitals do have to take you if you're having a true emergency, like a broken leg or chest pain. But they can also send you a huge bill and be very aggressive about collecting it," said Metcalf.

Also consider negotiating what to pay for care - asking a clinic, doctor, or hospital for the discount that insurance companies get.

Metcalf said, "Don't be shy. That discount could save you as much as half your bill."

Still, Mike Jenks says he envies the peace of mind that comes with health benefits.

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