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No Health Insurance? Risks and what you can do about them

The number of the uninsured have grown by nearly 18% just since 2000, according to a study updated in 2006 by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. More than 46 million people under 65 lack insurance. Also millions considered underinsured. An underinsured person is a person that has gaps in their coverage that leave them exposed to catastrophic medical bills.

Medical bills are a factor in about half of all consumer bankruptcies filed, according to a Harvard University study.

Risk of being uninsured:

  • People without health insurance receive less preventive care and are less likely to have major diseases detected early.
  • People who are uninsured are more likely to die prematurely than people who are insured.
  • Uninsured infants have relative odds of dying that are 1.5 times higher than infants with private insurance.
  • The poorer health associated with being uninsured depresses workers' average lifetime earnings significantly. A Kaiser report: estimated that better health would boost earnings by 10% to 30%.

If you don't have insurance, consider using the resources below to obtain low or no-cost health care.

Low- and no-cost health care

Routine and diagnostic care: Hundreds of community health centers around the country offer free or low-cost care. To find a site near you, visit the Bureau of Primary Health Care.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on state health departments, which provide additional clinics and resources for the uninsured.

The CDC also has a guide for women looking for low-cost mammograms and Pap smears. The American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 can direct you to services that provide free or cheap screenings for various types of cancer.

Be watchful for any health fairs sponsored by local employers or community organizations. Free and low-cost screenings for common ailments, from depression to high cholesterol, are a routine part of these festivals.

Birth control and reproductive care: Many of the free and low-cost clinics provide reproductive care, or you can contact Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which specializes in free and low-cost help for men and women.

Prescriptions: Some companies market drug discount cards that might entitle you to small breaks on prescription prices, but if you're low-income, you might qualify for assistance programs run by the pharmaceutical companies. Two sites to check: NeedyMeds and the Partnership for Prescription Assistance.

Ask your doctor for free samples of any drugs prescribed. Most physicians have closets full of them.

Vision: Lions Club International is famous for its charity eye-care campaigns, which provide free screenings and recycled glasses. If you have a low-wage job but no vision coverage, the American Optometric Association may be able to hook you up with a volunteer doctor of optometry for a free exam. If you're 65 or older, the American Academy of Ophthalmology may be able to provide exams and treatment through its EyeCare America foundation at 1-800-222-EYE

Dental: Dental schools provide inexpensive and well-supervised treatment. To find the one nearest you, visit the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Some of the free clinics also provide dental services.

Emergency care: If you're facing a life-threatening situation, hospital emergency rooms are required to evaluate and stabilize you before asking about your ability to pay.

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