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Where do the uninsured go for treatment?

September 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
As the debate over health care rages, an estimated 46-million Americans could be one illness away from financial disaster. They're people who have no health insurance at all. What are the options if they get sick? Consumer Specialist Ric Romero has important information on where to get care. Kathleen Sweet has no insurance to pay for her diabetes medication. She nearly died recently from heart and kidney failure.

"I'm frightened every day of my life," said Sweet.

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.

"See if you qualify for Medicaid," said Nancy Metcalf from Consumer Reports. "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 Insure Kids Now. 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.

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

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," explains Metcalf. "But they can also send you a huge bill and be very aggressive about collecting it."

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

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

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

"I would love to have insurance," said Jenks.

There are approximately 7,000 federally subsidized health care clinics in the U.S. that charge on a sliding scale.

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