Out of Work, but not Opportunities to Get Health Care


It's a sad fact of life in our current economic environment: Almost every day, it seems, we see stories in the news about hundreds of people losing their jobs as employers resort to layoffs and downsizing — to say nothing of companies going out of business.

More than 45 million Americans had no health insurance in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fortunately, if you find yourself in this situation, there are several things you can do to keep getting the health services that you need.

Adam Goldstein, a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, offers these tips:

· Check to see if you qualify to continue your current health insurance under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). COBRA (www.dol.gov/ ebsa/faqs/faq_consumer_cobra. HTML) is a federal law that gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue group benefits for limited periods of time after job loss. Qualified individuals still must pay the entire premium for coverage to continue.

· Call your primary-care doctor and explain your situation. Most physicians will work with you to ensure that you still have access to care while you work out a way to pay your medical bills. They may even have a sliding-scale policy to allow those with fewer financial resources to pay less at each visit.

· Seek care at a community health center or free medical clinic, whose mission is to serve patients, regardless of their ability to pay. You can also use the free clinic system and/or visit your local health department. To find free clinics, see: www.nachc.org/ or www.findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

· Try to get your medications at reduced or no cost. Prices in pharmacies may vary widely, with the most expensive charging two to five times more than the least expensive. Shop around. Many pharmaceutical companies offer medications for free for a limited time to patients with no income and few financial assets. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance offers access to more than 450 public and private patient assistance programs, including more than 180 programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. Log on to: www.pparx.org/Intro.php.

· Focus on things you can do on your own to stay healthy. This includes exercising regularly; avoiding tobacco and alcohol; eating whole grains, and fresh fruit and vegetables; refraining from salt-laden and high-cholesterol foods; and getting plenty of sleep. You can get your blood pressure checked for free in most drugstores, and even get free flu shots at many locations.



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