If you can’t afford afford the doctor or don’t have insurance or can’t pay co-pays and deductibles, don’t give up hope. Just get scrappy. If you are willing to be a little creative and extremely persistent, there may be a way:
Try looking into free clinics in your area. If you are not eligible for your local free clinic or there is no clinic near you, you can call the nearest one ask them if there are other services available in your area.
Try contacting Federally Qualified Health Centers in your area.
Mental Health Centers
Community mental health centers may offer free or low cost counseling, psychiatric care and treatment.
Respite centers can provide support and short-term housing for people experiencing mental health crisis
Peer Mental Health Programs – can offer peer support, recovery tools, drop-in centers, and many other services.
These programs are often run out of hospitals, but they are not just for hospital visits. Some will cover routine doctors visits, medications, testing, and visits with specialists.
Try contacting all hospitals in your region and ask if any of them have financial aid or charity care programs. Make sure to search in nearby cities and other parts of the state. These are only available in some areas, but some programs offer a LOT of services.
Tip: In many cases, you must apply for these programs BEFORE you go to the hospital. It takes about a month to get approved. Some people get expensive surgeries and procedures completely free this way.
Tip: Sometimes these programs will not appear on the hospitals website. Or they will be buried. Try contacting financial aide department. Also, see if you can call a hospital Social Worker.
Tip: Some charity care programs reach more than one area. There may be a big hospital in a large city, but they may also have smaller satellite offices throughout the state. Try everywhere in your state to see what’s possible.
Take a Trip
You may be able to apply for charity care programs in other states! You can also look into free medical transport programs: How to Get Free Medical Travel (Planes, Trains, Hotels, etc)
Reader’s Story: Juniper lives in North Carolina. She applied for a hospital charity care program all the way in California. Then she applied for a medical transportation program. She got free plane ride and hotel, and free surgery.
Planned Parenthood provides a whole range of low-cost medical care beyond reproductive health care concerns. Treatment is available to everyone, regardless of gender.
Due to some special laws and loopholes, these Hill Burton facilities are obligated to provide free or low-cost medical care whether they want to or not! See if there is a program in your area. Hint: The free care won’t be automatic. You must contact them and request an application and enroll in the financial aid program.
Try looking into Badger Care Plus. If you don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid, you might still qualify for Badger Care.
CO-PAYS & PREMIUMS
If you have insurance but can’t afford to use it:
- Patient Services – assistance with premiums and co-payments
- The HealthWell Foundation – co-payments for medical treatments.
- Co-Pay Relief – assistance with co-payments.
- Medicare Extra Help – For people on Medicare
- How to Escape Medicare Fees – Also for people on Medicare (obviously)
- Medicaid – If you have Medicaid plus other insurance, Medicaid will pay co-pays
- Free clinics – Even if you have insurance, you may be eligible
Take a Trip
Some hospital charity care programs will allow you to apply, even if you live in area, or even a different state. We have heard from several readers who were able to get free surgeries, procedures, and treatments this way. These types of programs exist throughout the country – often in large hospital systems or cities. These programs are often unadvertised and you won’t hear about them. Try making phone calls and checking websites to look for charity care and financial aid programs.
Vocational Rehabilitation Programs
Vocational Rehab programs are designed to help people with disabilities go back to work. But they can also do something else good: They can give you free medical testing and vocational assessments. If they find that there are jobs you can do, they may be able to help you find training or a job. If they find that there are no jobs you can do, their assessments can be very helpful when applying for disability.
If you are applying for disability, make sure to request copies of all tests they do and personally send them to Social Security and confirm they arrived. Also, be aware that Social Security may collect your entire file, so they may read anything any staff member there writes about you. Not just when being tested, but anything written at any time by anyone.
If you applied for Medicaid and got turned down, don’t give up just yet. Here are about ten more ways you can qualify for medicaid that you probably didn’t know about.
Medicaid – Try again!
If you never applied for Medicaid because you are 100% certain you are not eligible, don’t be so sure. Do not give up until you have read every sentence on this page: How to Respond When You Are Told You Can’t Get Medicaid
Some doctors are starting a new model of service where they do not accept insurance, but instead you buy a subscription (just like a gym membership!).
Subscriptions are typically $50 – $100 per month and will give you unlimited visits with a primary care doctor. Try Googling your city, state or area and the words “Direct Primary Care”
Make a Better Estimate
If you are working (or plan to work in the upcoming year), When you apply for insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace, you are asked to estimate your income from working in the upcoming year. Many people don’t know exactly what their income will be. In this case, the instructions say, “Just do your best to make a realistic estimate.”
A lot of people think: “I’ll just guess really low. Low is good!” Sounds logical, but it doesn’t always work that way. Low can be bad! Some states did not expand Medicaid, so if you guess to low, you can’t get any subsidies to help with insurance. Your insurance might become so incredibly expensive you can sign up at all!
If this happened to you, it is helpful to learn more about the minimum income levels for marketplace insurance. From Kaiser Family Foundation: “In general, you may be eligible if you are single and your annual 2020 income is between $12,490 to $49,960 or if your household income is between $21,330 to $85,320 for a family of three.”
It is often difficult for people to estimate their income, especially if they do seasonal work, or shift work, or work based on commission. Do your best to give an honest estimate. If your estimate is too low, you may be charged a little extra at the end of the year. If your estimate is too high, there is no repercussion.
Is Low Really Bad?
Here’s a marketplace calculator where you can find out what kind of help you are eligible for.
Petunia’s story: Petunia estimated that she would make $12,000 this year. Her insurance was $600 per month! Later she talked with her neighbor about getting paid to do some babysitting. She went back and estimated she would make $14,000 this year. Suddenly her insurance was $20 per month!
Crazy story! But true story!
You can also consider moving to a different area, or living with relatives or friends in a different state and changing your residency. This is a pretty radical solution, but if you need a life-saving procedure or operation, it is worth considering.
“I was in so much pain every day that I could not work and I had no way to pay for medical care. After I got evicted, I moved across the state and slept on a friend’s couch. The first day I arrived, I applied for a charity care program at the local hospital. Two months later, I got a $15,000 surgery, plus expensive medications, plus free physical therapy twice a week. Getting evicted is the best thing that ever happened to me.” – VN
Grants for treatment and testing for Chronic Lyme.
PAYING OUT OF POCKET
Documenting Medical Expenses
Documenting medical expenses may be helpful for taxes, housing, or food stamps. Medical expenses can be anything your doctor recommends or agrees would be helpful for your condition, including vitamins, herbs and supplements. Sometimes other things count too! For example: a taxi to the pharmacy, or food and litter for an emotional support animal.
- Food Stamps – If you are disabled and have medical expenses, your food stamps can go up.
- Housing – If you live in Section 8, HUD, or USDA housing and have medical expenses, your rent can go down.
- Tax Breaks – you may be able to get tax breaks based on your medical costs.
- How to Document Medical Expenses – If you are declaring medical expenses you need to document them.
If you have outstanding bills and want to try to get them reduced, check out: How I Cut My Medical Bills By 80%.
More About Medical Bills
If you are poor or on disability, you should know that medical debt collectors canNOT take any of your Social Security money under any circumstances… unless you decide to give it to them. Some people decide to give it to them, and some people chose not to. Learn more about: How To Deal with Disability & Debt
Getting a Faster Decision
Disability automatically comes with health insurance. If you are applying for Social Security disability, there are several ways you may be able to get your hearing date or your disability decision more quickly: How Can I Get Social Security to Move Me to the Top of the List?
Getting a Better Decision
If you are already applying for disability, you will get health insurance after you are approved. But that will be three years from now! Or will it? Many of our readers were approved in six months or less: How I Got Approved for Disability QUICKLY
If You Can’t Apply for Disability
If you think you are not eligible to apply for disability, you may be right, or you may be wrong. Every now and then I meet someone who is wrong about this, and that is a happy day. Please double check: Fifteen Ways to Qualify for Disability After You Were Told You Don’t Qualify for Disability
- How to Get Medical Equipment Covered Through Insurance
- How to Get an Electric Wheelchair or Scooter Through Insurance
- How to Pay for Medical Equipment Without Insurance
- Financial assistance for hearing aids
- Free Home Modifications (renters and homeowners)
💮 The Patient Advocate Foundation provides free case management services
💮 This article provides some more great tips and ideas on How to Go to The Doctor With No Insurance
💮 If you can’t get to the doctor because you lack transportation, assistance, or the ability to get out of bed: “I Cannot Get to the Doctor”
💮 If you try everything you can and you STILL can’t get to the doctor, Social Security will accept that you have a good reason. However, you have got to let Social Security know your reason for not going to the doctor
💮 This page is part of the free online guide: The Sleepy Girl Guide to Social Security Disability
💮 Art on this page by Robin Mead and Elizabeth D’Angelo.
💮 Page Updated: 7/1/19
💮 Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.
💮 If you found this page helpful, please share it with others by pressing one of these magic little buttons:
6 thoughts on “How to Go to The Doctor When You Can’t Afford to Go to the Doctor”
Important topic with good tips for people to know and follow. For me, the really tricky part is when you go to one of these places and they say something like, “Ideally, you should go get this diagnostic test”…just to rule out some condition that you probably don’t have and can’t afford but could also, like, wreck your health if you do get unlucky.
I second this, it’s a really well thought out blog & the FB page
This web site is amazing and has so much information and all the forms you need. Also the information about housing and other programs. It’s been the most helpful site I’ve come across.
This is the best site to learn so much. Also, if you go on you tube, Jonathon Ginsberg has a ton of videos that cover just about every topic you can think of about applying for disability. His are the best ones to watch. I’d pick a day and binge watch those like they were on Netflix.
“Due to some special laws and loopholes, these Hill Burton facilities are obligated to provide free or low-cost medical care whether they want to or not!”
I laughed when I read this because of the experiences I keep enduring in the system, so wondering what you mean by this…:)
We talk a lot about disability benefits a lot in the group I moderate. We share your marvelous information all the time.