NEW YORK (AP) — The health care overhaul passed earlier this year will help many uninsured get coverage starting in 2014. But until then, Americans who lose employer coverage may find buying insurance on their own unaffordable.
That means many of the 46 million Americans uninsured have to foot the bill for medical care.
If you don't have health coverage and can't afford to buy it, there are ways to cope:
The best time to search out medical care is long before an emergency. And there are low or no-cost options. Having a primary physician and going in for regular visits is the key to staying healthy and avoiding the emergency room, according to Elizabeth Forer, CEO of Venice Family Clinic, a network of low-cost health centers in the Los Angeles area.
People who have a primary care doctor when they lose their insurance should tell their physician about the change in status and ask if there is any flexibility on fees. Many physicians will offer a sliding scale or reduced payments to maintain the relationship.
"When something does go wrong you want to go to someone who you have a relationship with, who already knows your medical history," said Forer.
Community health centers, partially funded by the federal government, provide uninsured Americans with a regular doctor who knows their health situations and can help them manage chronic diseases like diabetes or asthma. The clinics offer treatment according to the patient's ability to pay and in some cases, for free. The closest of the 1,250 centers can be located at http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/.
Within a few months of losing her insurance last year, Melissa Colton, 55, of Los Angeles, found the Venice Family Clinic. The center provided her doctor visits for $20 and medication for a small donation.