2006-08-23 / Seniors

The Savvy Senior.

Low-Cost Health Care Options

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you write a column on low-cost healthcare options for uninsured and underinsured people? With so many Americans without insurance today, this would be very helpful. Uninsured at 55

Dear Uninsured:

Soaring healthcare costs and nearly 46 million Americans living without health insurance today is overwhelming proof that our healthcare system needs fixing. Until that happens, here are some low-cost healthcare resources that can help you now.

Government Resources

The first place to look is the U.S. government. Depending on your income level, here are several places to check:

 Bureau of Primary Health Care: Provides federally funded community health centers that offer low-cost health and dental care to people based on financial need. To find a health center near you, visit ask.hrsa.gov/pc or call 888-275-4772.  HillBurton program: Offers free or

reduced-cost health care to those who can't afford to pay. Around 300 healthcare facilities nationwide provide this service. To find out if you're eligible, visit www.hrsa.gov/hillburton or call 800-6380742 (800-492-0359 for Maryland residents)

 Other options: To locate and find out if you're eligible for other governmental programs, including Medicaid, discounts on prescription drugs, supplemental income and more, visit www.govbenefits.gov or www. benefitscheckup. org.

Free Clinics

Free clinics are privately funded, nonprofit, community based organizations that typically provide care for common illnesses and injuries and are available to those uninsured, underinsured or low income at little or no cost. There are around 1,000 free clinics nationwide. To locate one in your area, call your local hospital or visit uniteforsight. org/freeclinics.php.

Mini Clinics This is a new type of healthcare service that has been popping up in retail stores around the country. Typically found in national chains like Wal-Mart, Target, Piggly Wiggly supermarkets and drugstores like Osco, CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreen, mini clinics offer convenient, low-cost care for minor ailments. They may also provide vaccinations and write prescriptions, and some handle physicals and ordinary medical tests. They are staffed by nurse practitioners. The cost of care will vary depending on where you live and what ails you, but you can expect to pay in the $25 to $75 range. Many clinics also accept insurance. To find a mini clinic near you, see the following:

MinuteClinic: www. minuteclinic. com, 8663892727

Take Care Clinics: www.takecarehealth. com, 877-698-2532

RediClinic: www.rediclinic.com, 8666077334

Urgent Care Centers

Another affordable option is the booming industry of urgent care centers. Staffed by M.D.s, urgent care centers provide walk-in services for minor illnesses and injuries, and are usually open late during the week and on weekends. Some centers even offer prepaid medical services for about $40 per month for individuals. To locate an urgent care center in your area, look in your local yellow pages.

TelaDoc

This is another relatively inexpensive and convenient new service that provides around-the-clock access to medical assistance via telephone with trained primary care doctors who can diagnose your problem

and prescribe medications. Before using TelaDoc you must first provide some medical history of yourself. The costs for TelaDoc include a one-time registration fee of $18, plus a $4.25 monthly fee for an individual ($5.75 per couple and $7 per family) and $35 per consultation. To learn more, visit www.teladoc.com or call 800-8352362.

Discount Health Plans

Not to be confused with health insurance, a discount health plan can be a cost-effective option that can reduce your healthcare expenses. How it works is, you pay a monthly membership fee (around $100 for an individual and $200 for family) in exchange for discounts on services from participating healthcare providers. Depending on the plan, you can get 20 to 50 percent discounts from participating doctors, hospitals and dentists, as well as discounts on prescription drugs and vision services. (Note: discount health plans are not regulated in most states, so be sure you thoroughly check out the company and the plan you're considering.)

Savvy Tips: For additional help finding affordable health insurance or low-cost health care in your area, visit www. ahirc. org and www. covertheuninsured. org/ stateguides. For free or nearly free prescription medicine, see www. pparx. org or call 888-477-2669.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, Oklahoma 73070, or visit www. savvysenior. org. Savvy Senior Jim Miller is a regular contributor to the NBC television "Today Show" and author of the book, The Savvy Senior.

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