How to Get Charity Care and Other Options When You're Uninsured

Qualifying for Special Care Options

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Millions of Americans go without health insurance coverage every year. In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 27.6 million Americans under the age of 65 were without health care coverage in 2016. Though this number is down from the 44 million who were uninsured before the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2014, it's still a significant number.

Being Uninsured Means Less Health Care

Unfortunately, those without health insurance will have a much more difficult time finding timely and affordable treatment for health issues and overall medical care. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, those without insurance tend to not get preventative care which includes important screenings for diseases. In fact, 49 percent of uninsured adults under the age of 65 said they didn't have a source they regularly used for health care. However, if you are uninsured, you still have several options when you need medical care.

Options for the Uninsured

If you're uninsured, here are some of your options:

  • Emergency rooms: Passed in 1986, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires emergency rooms across the United States to treat any and everyone who walks through the door, regardless of their health care plan or their ability to pay. Thus, the ER can be visited for free health care, although such visits should be saved for emergencies only.
  • Free clinics: Free clinics provide health care to local low-income residents and needy individuals. They are available in communities and neighborhoods throughout the United States. These clinics can charge reduced rates or provide free care for patients with certain minor conditions. The fees at a free clinic typically depend on your income. Health insurance coverage is not taken into account at free clinics, and thus they are a solid option if you're uninsured.
  • Charity care: As the name suggests, charity care is just that; charity. Charity care, also commonly referred to as uncompensated health care, is health care provided for free, or at a reduced cost. Many people who receive charity care don't have an income. Charity care must be applied for, and it's only available at participating hospitals and similar healthcare facilities.

How to Obtain Charity Care

One of the best options available, if you're uninsured, is charity care. For some patients, this may be the only way they can obtain the care they need, but finding charity care can be a real challenge.

Most states, like New Jersey, have a government agency in charge of charity care, but patients are often unaware of it. Your best bet for obtaining charity care is to contact your hospital. Hospitals typically have all the information you need to apply for and obtain charity care, including eligibility information and the appropriate forms.

Charity care programs typically require that the applicant be ineligible for any type of health insurance coverage, including Medicaid. Patients may need to provide financial information demonstrating that they are unable to pay.

Sources:

American College of Emergency Physicians. EMTALA. Published 2016.

Foutz J, Damico A, Squires E, Garfield R. The Uninsured: A Primer - Key Facts about Health Insurance and the Uninsured Under the Affordable Care Act. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Published December 14, 2017.