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What Happens If I Get Sick With No Health Insurance?

By Leyla Norman ; Updated October 25, 2017

Millions of Americans have no health insurance. Premiums and pre-existing conditions make it nearly impossible for many to get the coverage they need. Many who are self-employed also go without health insurance because insurance is unaffordable to them. When you get sick without health insurance, however, a number of options to receive care are available.

Community Clinics

Most communities have public health clinics that offer services for free or on a sliding scale. If the clinic has a sliding scale, you will pay more or less depending on your income. Contact your county’s department of public health for contact information for your area’s closest community health clinic.


Many pharmacies now offer generic prescriptions at a low cost to consumers. For example, a month’s supply of a generic prescription may cost about $5 in many cases. Pharmacies and other prescription-benefits companies also offer prescription programs to help reduce the cost of regular prescriptions you may have to take. Many prescription companies also offer discount programs to individual consumers. Partnership for Prescription Assistance and NeedyMeds are two websites that offer matchmaking assistance for drug-assistance programs and individuals needing them.

Payment Plans

Emergency rooms will treat you if you have an emergency illness. You can arrange a payment plan with the hospital. The same goes for doctors: Many are willing to arrange payment plans or even offer a discount (or perhaps services for free). Tell the doctor your financial situation upfront to see if you can arrange some sort of payment plan or discount. In addition, some medical service providers will provide a discount on your medical bills if you offer to pay a certain percentage upfront. Tell the provider you cannot pay the whole bill at once, but you are willing to pay a lump sum in cash instead of dragging out paying your bill with a payment plan. You can also argue that your medical provider is charging you more for a service as an individual than he would a health insurance company and possibly get your bill reduced that way.

Medicaid and Medicare

Medicaid provides medical assistance to low-income individuals and families without health insurance. Medicare provides medical assistance to individuals "65 or older, some disabled people under age 65, and people of all ages with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure treated with dialysis or a transplant)," according to the federal government's Medicare website.

Contact your county or state’s department of health and human services to find out about the application process for these programs in your state. Be prepared to provide detailed financial documentation, such as pay stubs, copies of bills and bank statements to prove you have a low income.

Discount Health Plans

Many discount health plans offer savings on certain health services and prescriptions. It is important to realize, however, that these plans are not health insurance. Some of them make unsubstantiated claims about the savings you can get, and with hidden fees and costs, you may end up paying more for your medical services than you thought you would based on the plan’s advertising. Contact your state’s department of insurance to check out the reputation of any health plan you are considering.

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