Medical Treatment for People Without Health Insurance

Hospital Treatment

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires hospital emergency rooms to provide lifesaving care to patients even if patients have no insurance and no ability to pay. The Hill-Burton Act requires hospitals that previously received federal money for construction projects to provide some free care to patients that meet specific income guidelines. Hospitals sometimes, but not always, agree to make payment arrangements or offer discounts to uninsured patients if patients simply ask.

Outpatient Treatment

Most areas have clinics that provide care on a sliding scale to patients without insurance. Patients pay a percentage of the standard fee for services, based on their income.

In most counties, the mental health board provides funding for mental health treatment for uninsured patients. Local agencies provide mental health services on a sliding scale with funds from the mental health board.

Some doctors and other health care providers will offer services to uninsured patients at a reduced fee if patients ask. People without insurance may have difficulty finding the medical care they need at an affordable price, however, especially if they need to see a specialist or need costly treatments.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are often quite costly. For instance, in September 2009, Wal-Mart charged $100.78 for a one-month supply of Effexor, a commonly prescribed antidepressant. Wal-Mart charged $128.70 for a one-month supply of Celebrex, a drug used to treat arthritis.

People without health insurance can save money by purchasing generic drugs instead of name brand drugs, but not all drugs are available in generic form. Some manufacturers of prescription drugs, including Wyeth, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline, have programs that provide free or low-cost drugs to low-income patients in need, but not all people without health insurance qualify for these programs.

Government Programs

Medicaid covers medical treatment for some low-income people without health insurance, although not everyone qualifies. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides medical coverage for some low-income children that do not qualify for Medicaid.

Non-Government Programs

A number of non-government programs exist to help people without medical insurance. For instance, the Lions Club pays for eye surgery for some uninsured patients, the Cancer Fund of America gives free medical supplies to cancer patients in need, and the American Kidney Fund helps uninsured patients pay for medical care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2008, about 43.8 million Americans had no health insurance. That number increased from about 41 million uninsured in 1997. Medical care can be quite costly, and people without insurance often have trouble affording the care they need. Some programs exist to help the uninsured access medical care, but sufficient help is not always available.