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Don't Have Medical Insurance? 7 Tips for How to Find Help.

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by Rodney C. Haring, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., and Paul Gray, L.M.S.W.

Q. I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a crippling spinal condition. One month later, my husband was laid off and the insurance taken. Every time I apply for Medicaid, I'm turned down unless I'm pregnant. And even when I was pregnant, it took seven months to get approved. I really don't know what to do.
Anonymous

A. If you have a medical condition but no insurance, here are some options to consider.

  1. Find a social worker to help with your Medicaid application. Your community probably has a host of organizations with social workers who can help, including human-service agencies, social-service agencies, not-for-profit groups and social-work private practitioners. Check the phonebook or, in an online phonebook, search the keyword "social services," "social work" or "counseling."

    A social worker will make sure your eligibility paperwork is completed correctly and submitted in a timely manner. He or she can also follow up with phone calls to expedite your application.

    Many social workers do pro bono work. And companies may provide employees with free counseling. Ask about an Employee Assistance Program.

    You can also ask local universities where their social work interns are placed. Interns are a great free resource. They're affiliated with a university and mentored by higher-level social workers.
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  2. Bargain shop. Before expensive treatment, call around to find clinics and hospitals that provide services at a reduced rate. This is often referred to as a sliding fee scale (fees based on your income). You can also look for those that offer payment plans.
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  3. Teach yourself. Continue to learn about where you can receive care, financial help and qualified guidance about your condition. You'll become an educated patient and can begin self-advocating. Contact national or regional organizations that focus on your condition.
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  4. Gather friends. Build a solid support network. A team of family members, friends and organizations can help find resources and guide you through financial concerns.
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  5. Get financial counseling. Reputable credit counseling agencies are a great place to turn when in financial distress due to growing medical bills. Check with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
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  6. Go to the county. As a last resort, if you have difficulty getting the services you need, contact your county executive's office or county administrator. Explain your situation and the problems you've encountered. These people work for you, the taxpayer.
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  7. Whatever you do, get treatment. If you need to use the emergency room, don't be afraid. They can't refuse treatment. You'll receive a medical evaluation and the ability to speak with a qualified medical practitioner. You'll also get local resources to guide your care after you're released.

    Do not give up. Hope and perseverance can overcome many obstacles.

RODNEY C. HARING, PH.D., L.M.S.W., is founder of One Feather Consulting (a nationwide Employee Assistance Program provider that also offers various consulting services) and an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia and at Buffalo.

PAUL GRAY, L.M.S.W., is a counselor at One Feather Consulting with 17 years of experience.

Last updated and/or approved: March 2010. Originally appeared in January/February 2009 magazine. Bios current as of March 2010.

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