April 23rd, 2008
Primary and Emergency Care
In response to increasing unaffordability of health insurance in America and justifying his repeated vetos of State Children’s Health Insurance Program [SCHIP] expansions, President George W. Bush declared during an appearance in Cleveland last July that:
“The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.”
As if that weren’t clueless enough, the New York Times reports today (April 23) that one of the nation’s largest health insurers, UnitedHealth, announced disappointing first-quarter earnings (profits), saying the weakening Economy Has Dented Its Prospects. In short, as premiums rise, employers are dropping insurance plans for their employees, more employees are opting out, and rising unemployment is reflected in increasing numbers of uninsured.
The for-profit industry has also shot itself in the foot by increasing premiums to protect its profits over the quickly rising cost of care, not covering people who may have health problems, and simply refusing to pay for health care for the insured. Medical bills now account for a full half of all bankruptcies in the US, and ER treatment is NOT “free.”
So in this installment in the series of inexpensive health care tips, let’s look at some resources out there for people who don’t have insurance, or have “junk insurance” that doesn’t actually cover anything, and those who simply cannot pay cash for doctor’s visits, eye care, dental care, hospitalization or any other aspect of health care in this country.
The readers of this blog have access to a computer (or they wouldn’t be reading). There are some searches you can do through Google or some other search engine to access information on free or sliding scale health care in your area. I did this for my state and locality, western North Carolina. Here are some of the results…
On a search for “free eye care NC” I found Unite for Sight’s Free Health Coverage Program Portal, with hot links to every state. It also links to many sites out there for free basic health care resources, SCHIP coverage programs for children, free eye care, veteran’s insurance by the states, Medicaid and Medicare, free prescription medications, and the states’ free health coverage programs generally. This is a valuable resource page which is featured weekly on CNN International.
In North Carolina, I was also returned a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association page listing a total of 69 free clinics across the state supported by the foundation. North Carolina has the nation’s largest association of free clinics, but it also has a high number (~1.3 million) of uninsured and working poor who don’t have access to insurance. The state Medicaid and Children’s Insurance programs are capped due to funding shortfalls, leaving thousands who qualify for the coverage out in the cold.
The clinics are often traveling, available only on certain days or months. But if you plan ahead and do your homework, this can be a good way to get basic primary care. The NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Medical Assistance administers our SCHIP program. The waiting list is long, usually ‘forever’ long in that emergency situations take precedence (as they should), but you never know. Keep applying, someday you might get your children in. The coverage is for all regular and emergency medical needs, and is supposed to be available on a sliding scale to 200% of poverty level income. At that level, it’ll only cost your family $567 per month per child! At poverty level, it’s just $50 a month for one child, $100 for two or more. Plus there are deductibles you must pay out of pocket. I know… not much of a deal, is it? I mean, if you had an extra $100 a month, you could probably just go to the doctor and pay cash.
A better bet when you need help and there are no free clinics available is your local Health Department. Most cities (or counties) offer immunizations and flu shots, cancer screening, child and adult primary care, dental care, and physical examinations for work and school requirements. This is government medicine at its bureaucratic worst, but it is honest-to-goodness medical care. It’s worth bookmarking your area’s health department site for when you may need it. If your family has some income, expect to pay on a sliding scale. So have your income and expenses list ready, along with pay stubs, utility bills, etc. Keep them in a folder or envelope to take with you whenever you access a free or sliding-scale provider.
All I can say is that until and unless America offers single-payer coverage to all citizens, there will be tens of millions of American citizens who have no health care. Estimates of up to 80,000 people die every year due to lack of medical care – don’t let that figure include you or your family. Be prepared to get what you need when you need it, and do NOT take ‘no’ for an answer.
In the most extreme – if you or someone in your family is in serious need and access is being denied, go ahead and bookmark your area’s free legal services association. When in real need, there’s no sense in standing on pride if that means you lose your life or your child’s life. Every other civilized country on the planet offers universal care to their citizens (and most also offer it to visitors). The only reason the US doesn’t have universal care is corporate greed.
I do not believe that some corporate greed-head’s golden parachute or multi-million dollar salary is worth even one person’s untimely death. More people in this country are victims of the “Death by Spreadsheet” industry than fall to terrorists or either of our current wars. This is simply unacceptable. Be a Boy Scout – Be Prepared.
Previous Posts About Health and Health Care:
Inexpensive Health Care Tips – Intro
Inexpensive Health Care Tips – 2
Inexpensive Health Care Tips – 3
Medical Rationing and Medical Tourism
Basic Health Maintenance: Part I
Basic Health Care Maintenance: Part II