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If you’re uninsured or underinsured, you may need to rely on county programs, nonprofits, and health clinics for healthcare. But access to programs and resources vary significantly from county to county and state to state. It can be tough to tell if you’re eligible for these services.
Here’s a roundup of resources, tools, and tips to find clinics and financial assistance to manage the physical and mental health needs of you and your family.
See if you qualify for Medicaid
If you can’t get insurance through your employer, see if you qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid is a federal and state program that offers health insurance coverage at little or no cost.
Coverage depends on your income level, but under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 35 states, including Washington, D.C., have expanded eligibility to include a wider income range.
To find out if you’re eligible, visit Medicaid.gov. You’ll need to contact the agency for Medicaid in your state of residence.
Look up health insurance on your state’s marketplace
If you don’t qualify for Medicaid, you may qualify for free or low cost health insurance through the ACA. Visit Healthcare.gov to find out if you qualify for help and estimate potential costs.
If you have questions, input your zip code to this website to find local help.
See if a short-term health insurance plan will work
Short-term insurance plans are meant for people who may fall into a gap in coverage, eligibility, or missed an open enrollment window.
For example, undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible to enroll in the healthcare exchanges but might find that a short-term health insurance plan will fit their needs. Short-term plans typically have lower monthly premiums. However, they usually don’t cover pre-existing conditions and may have a high deductible.
If you don’t have insurance, there are several ways to find free local clinics or clinics that charge based on your income.
Community health centers
Community health centers, which are sometimes called Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), are government-run clinics that offer free or low cost services, including prenatal and primary care, to low income households. FQHCs include:
- community health centers
- migrant health centers
- health centers for residents of public housing
- homeless shelter clinics
Visit Healthcare.gov’s Find a Health Center website to search for community health centers in your area.
The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics website also has a search tool to help you find a free or charitable clinic close to you.
Usually, there are no specific requirements to be seen at a free clinic, meaning anyone can go there for healthcare regardless of income or immigration status.
County and regional health departments
County health departments are state-local partnerships that provide a variety of health services to the community. These include:
- basic family healthcare
- care for minor illnesses and injuries
- prenatal care and family planning
- school-based healthcare
- well-child services
- sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnosis and treatment
- dental care
Many counties and districts have Health and Human Services departments. The National Association of County and City Health Officials has created an online directory to help you find a health department in your area.
Mobile clinics are customized vehicles that travel to communities to provide prevention and healthcare services at a low cost. One 2014 study estimates that there are about 1,500 mobile clinics operating throughout the country.
To find one near you, search this mobile clinic map.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become increasingly available. Many free or low cost clinics offer the option to be seen virtually for urgent care, illness, mental health, substance abuse, and many other reasons.
There are quite a few telemedicine options available online. A few examples include:
Many of these services are available 24-7. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also allows those receiving Medicare to receive care via telehealth.
Other places to search out help
- Public libraries often offer access to internet and other resources and programs in the community. Some may even have a social worker on hand.
- If you’re a veteran of the United States military, check your eligibility for health coverage through Veterans Affairs.
- If you’re going to a community college or you’re a registered university student, you have access to on-campus health and wellness services.
According to the CMS, many healthcare sites use trained interpreters on-site or have bilingual staff members. Some providers also have telephonic interpretation services.
To discuss health insurance in your language, visit this website or call 800-318-2596.
The National Alliance for Hispanic Health is one organization that helps provide services in Spanish and English, including assistance with health topics, through a program called Su Familia: The National Hispanic Family Health Helpline.
This confidential helpline provides people with assistance on various health topics, including access to over 13,000 professionals in their communities.
Call 866-783-2645 (866-Su Familia) toll-free Monday through Friday (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET).
The Asian Alliance for Health has compiled health information on various health topics in several Asian languages.
For emergency mental health, the Asian LifeNet Hotline offers services in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, and Fujianese. You can contact them 24 hours a day at 877-990-8585.
With federal and state funding, most city and county health departments offer free or low cost testing for STIs.
Planned Parenthood is another great organization that bases fees on a sliding scale, meaning what you pay depends on your income, demographic factors, and assistance eligibility.
Find the Planned Parenthood closest to you by entering your zip code, city, or state in the search bar at this link.
Urgent care centers can typically treat most health concerns that don’t warrant a trip to an emergency room, like urinary tract infections, minor burns, pink eye, and non-life threatening allergic reactions. Urgent care centers allow you to see a healthcare professional quickly and cost much less than the emergency room.
While these clinics may not be free, costs are typically between $100 and $200. This is less than (and may be faster than) an emergency room visit, which, according to a survey by UnitedHealth Group, could typically cost over $2,000 for treating a non-emergency condition.
Urgent care centers serve people both with and without insurance and may offer a range of payment options, including discount programs and payment plans.
If you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, it can be difficult to afford medications and some monitoring devices.
Fortunately, there are several nonprofit organizations that provide prescription assistance and disease-specific financial aid programs.
- NeedyMeds, a nonprofit that connects people to programs to help them afford their medications. Contact them directly at 800-503-6897.
- Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF), a nonprofit that provides case management and financial aid to people with chronic, debilitating conditions. Contact PAF directly at 800-532-5274.
- HealthWell Foundation, a nonprofit that helps people with chronic illnesses with copays, premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses. Contact them directly at 800-675-8416.
- Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an organization that aims to increase patient access to medications. Search their Medicine Assistance Tool to find resources and cost-sharing programs to lower out-of-pocket costs for prescription medications.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides health coverage to eligible children up to age 19 who don’t have health insurance. CHIP may also provide dental services to children.
To apply for CHIP, call 800-318-2596 (TTY: 855-889-4325).
Alternatively, you can fill out an application through the Health Insurance Marketplace and someone will contact you.
Read about options for free and low-cost dental care for kids.
Medicaid and Medicare dental coverage
If you qualify for Medicaid, you may receive dental benefits, but this varies from state to state. Most states provide limited emergency dental services for people ages 21 and up and may provide more comprehensive dental services for those under 21.
Medicare Advantage plans such as Medicare Part A and Medicare Part C cover some types of dental care.
Another option is a local dental school. Many universities and colleges have clinics that allow dental students to practice treating patients at a lower cost. The students are supervised by licensed dentists.
You can search for a program in your area using this search tool provided by the American Dental Association.
Finding free or low cost healthcare can be a challenge at first, but there are resources available. Start by seeing if you’re eligible for free health insurance under the ACA or if you’re eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.
If you can’t find insurance or need help right away, consider looking for a community health center or mobile clinic. If you have a computer or a smartphone and an internet connection, telehealth services may also be available to you for free or on a sliding scale basis.
If you need financial help with prescription medications, prenatal services, mental health, or chronic illnesses, consider contacting a nonprofit organization.