Getting Treatment When You Don’t Have Medical Insurance

Far too many Americans are living without health insurance. In the economic downturn, millions of people have lost their jobs and accompanying medical insurance benefits. A new report from the Kaiser Foundation says the number of uninsured has risen sharply: 50 million Americans are now without health insurance.

Uninsured and in Need of Care

The passage of health reform last year provides hope for future coverage for many, but what should you do today if you're uninsured and in need of medical care?

  • If you're in need of medical care, go to a hospital emergency room even if you can't afford to pay for treatment. By law, hospitals must treat emergency patients; they can turn away non-emergency patients, however.
  • If you're uninsured and unemployed, go immediately to the hospital's billing department upon your release. In some cases, unemployed and uninsured patients can get their ER bill waived.
  • If you were recently laid off or retired, you may be eligible for COBRA health benefits. The law provides "certain former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses, and dependent children the right to temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates."
  • Look into treatment from learning centers: you can get reduced rates on oral and vision care, for instance, at dental and optometry schools.
  • Check on eligibility for Medicaid, a federal and state health care program.

Coming Expansions of Care for the Uninsured

Because the comprehensive health care reform signed last year is being phased in, different elements of the law are enacted at different times. For instance, this year there was an expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program, as well as an increase in the Medicaid drug rebate percentage.

More expansions and health care options are to come in 2011 and beyond, including the following:

  • 2011: Eligible Medicaid seniors will be able to receive a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs. There will also be an expansion of community-based assistance for certain Americans with disabilities, as well as expanded assistance for long-term care.
  • 2012: Begin programs that will pay for hospitalizations and other treatments for Medicaid patients.
  • 2013: Insurance reforms will create non-profit, member-run health insurance companies to offer care to the uninsured and others.
  • 2014: Require health insurance for all Americans, giving subsidies to those living in or near poverty. Expand Medicaid coverage to everyone under age 65 with an income of 133 percent or less of the federal poverty level.

While the debate about health care reforms and rights continues, there is little disagreement on this point: everyone needs quality health care. If you're currently uninsured, explore every available avenue to obtain the medical care you and your family need.