Accessing Affordable Healthcare: A Guide for the Uninsured

Healthcare is expensive. To make matters worse, many Georgians fall into the “coverage gap,” which means they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for financial assistance to purchase health insurance. Without health insurance, even basic healthcare services, like annual checkups, may be too costly. This puts uninsured individuals at greater risk of health problems and unexpected medical emergencies that take a huge financial toll. Fortunately, some resources and tools exist to help uninsured individuals manage healthcare costs and find affordable care. If you are uninsured, keep reading to find out how you may be able to access low-cost healthcare in your community!

Things to Keep in Mind if You’re Uninsured

Being proactive about the medical services and bills you receive can save you and your family money.

Ask Questions Before and During Your Visit

  • Ask how much the service will cost. You have the right to ask about healthcare charges before you visit a doctor. This is especially important if you don’t have health insurance.
  • Ask about the rate for insured patients. Patients with insurance are charged less because their insurance companies negotiate discounts on healthcare rates. If you are uninsured, ask for the rate that insured in-network patients pay for the same care and ask to have your rate lowered to match it.
  • Ask about financial assistance. Visit the provider’s website or call to ask about financial assistance available, which may include discounted or free care.

Shop & Compare

online healthcare resources

Be sure to take advantage of online tools available to help you compare healthcare costs at different facilities and learn how to manage your medical bills.

Accessing Health Insurance

  • To find out if you qualify for Medicaid or a Special Enrollment Period to enroll in a health insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, you can take this quick quiz to determine if you may be eligible. For additional help determining eligibility and filling out enrollment forms, feel free to reach out to the Healthcare Marketplace navigators. The navigators may also offer guidance on the healthcare plan to best fit your needs.

Community Health Centers 

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Community Health Centers (CHCs) deliver comprehensive primary care to uninsured and underserved populations. Community Health Centers provide free or reduced-price services charged on a sliding scale, which means the fees are based on income.

The services offered at CHCs vary but may include:

  • Preventative health
  • Illness and injury treatment
  • Mental health
  • Pregnancy care
  • Dental care
  • Immunizations
  • Prescription drugs
  • Behavioral and substance abuse counseling
  • Health education

Though it may be tempting to see a doctor only when you have an illness, it is important to receive preventative care, such as screenings and immunizations. The right preventative care ensures you and your family stay healthy to minimize the risk of serious illness or disease later.

CHCs include Charitable Care Clinics, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), and Public Health Departments.

Charitable Care Clinics

These clinics are independent, nonprofit, volunteer-driven and community-based organizations. Each clinic sets its own eligibility requirements and guidelines, and all must be contacted directly for help. They offer a variety of health care services, including medical, dental, vision, mental health and pharmacy services. However, not all clinics offer all services. Some may request a voluntary donation from their patients, some may charge a small fee or request no payment at all.  

To find a charitable care clinic near you, visit the Georgia Charitable Care Clinic Network website here.

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FHQCs) are community-based healthcare providers that receive funds to provide primary care services in underserved areas. Some health centers also provide mental health, substance abuse, oral health, and/or vision services. FQHCs offer healthcare services for free or reduced-price on a sliding scale. Additionally, these centers must provide transportation services necessary for adequate patient care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

To find a FQHC near you, visit here.

Public Health Departments

Public Health Departments prevent the spread of disease and promote healthy environments in local communities. Each local health department differs, but many of the services offered include women’s health, child health, adult and child immunizations, clinical and support services for children with special needs, Tuberculosis screening and treatment, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and family planning resources. Some health departments offer specialized services, including the following:

  • Centering Pregnancy Programs
  • Farm Workers Programs
  • Telehealth connection with specialty care to treat certain conditions, including:
    • Infectious Disease (HIV)
    • Sick Cell
    • Lung disease
    • Genetics counseling
  • Oral Health

There are 159 county health departments in Georgia. To find your local health department and find out what services it offers, visit here.

Emergency Care

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Emergency Room (ER)

Emergency rooms should only be used when you need immediate care for a life-threatening or life-impairing illness or injury (difficulty breathing, serious wound, severe pain, etc.).  If you cannot wait to make an appointment but do not face a medical crisis, it is best to visit an Urgent Care Center, where the cost of care will likely be lower than at a hospital ER.

Urgent Care Centers

Urgent Care Centers assist patients when their regular doctor is not available but they need medical care right away. Some common reasons for visiting an Urgent Care Center include fevers, animal bites, cuts that may require stitches, and sprains. They are usually open seven days a week from early morning to later in the evening.

Patients are treated on a first come, first served basis. In general, Urgent Care Centers have shorter wait times and are less expensive than emergency rooms. However, urgent care is not emergency care. If you visit an Urgent Care Center but are experiencing an injury or illness that needs emergency room attention, you may be sent to the emergency room and charged a bill for both.

To find an urgent care center near you, visit here.

Hospital-Based Care

If you unexpectedly visit a hospital and receive a large bill, there are some proactive steps you can take to reduce your costs and access financial assistance for hospital-based care.

Financial Assistance at Hospitals

Non-profit (and some for-profit) hospitals provide financial assistance, or charity care, for patients who are unable to pay for healthcare if they do not have insurance or have low incomes.  These programs differ from hospital to hospital but generally include discounted or free care for individuals who cannot afford to pay.

When visiting a hospital, always ask about financial assistance. Information about these programs can usually be found posted at hospital admission and registration areas as well as on the hospital’s website.  If you have questions about your eligibility for financial assistance, you should contact the hospital directly by email or telephone.

You can also contact your hospital’s billing department after you have already received your medical bill to ask about assistance. See the Georgia Consumer Guide for Medical Bills and Debt for more comprehensive information about financial assistance.

Indigent Care Trust Fund (ICTF)

ICTF is a Georgia program that pays many hospitals to provide healthcare for free or on a sliding scale to people with low incomes.  Hospitals that participate must provide financial assistance to low-income patients.  Ask your hospital about ICTF.  You can also find out whether your hospital participates in ICTF by contacting the hospital’s billing office or the Georgia Department of Community Health at 1-800-436-7442.

Other Sources of Care

Beyond traditional care sources like hospitals and community health centers, other healthcare options may exist to fit your needs. These healthcare options include retail clinics, school-based health centers, public health departments, centers based on specific health concerns, prescription assistance, and retail clinics.

Retail Clinics

Retail Clinics, such as Minute Clinics, are walk-in clinics located outside of the traditional healthcare setting. These can typically be found in pharmacies or grocery stores such as CVSWalgreensWalmart, or Kroger. Retail Clinics may be staffed by nurse practitioners, physician assistants, or a doctor who specializes in family health care.

Treatment services may include:

  • Flu shots
  • Wellness exams
  • Vaccinations
  • Minor illness diagnosis and treatment (such as bacterial infections)
  • Allergy care

School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs)

School-Based Health Centers provide healthcare to children and adolescents on school grounds. These centers provide a range of services such as health education, routine physicals, diagnosis and treatment of minor illnesses and injuries, and social support services. SBHCs provide treatment for children and sometimes school faculty at no or low cost.

For a list of centers currently operating in Georgia, visit here.

Breast and Cervical Cancer Program

The Georgia Breast and Cervical Cancer Program offers free breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services. You may be eligible for this program if you are between 40 and 64 years of age for breast cancer screening, between 21 and 64 for cervical cancer screening, and have an income below 200% of the federal poverty line.

Services include:

  • Clinical Breast Examination
  • Pap Smears
  • Pelvic Examination
  • Mammograms
  • HPV testing
  • Further diagnostic testing if needed
  • Referrals to treatment

To access this program, contact your local health department.

Prescription Assistance

Medical prescriptions can be costly, especially if you have more than one prescribed medication. Patient Assistance Programs, often run by drug companies or non-profit organizations, offer free or low-cost, generic prescription medications to eligible participants.

  • The Partnership for Prescription Assistance is a free, online service that connects patients with assistance programs.  If eligible for a program, you may be able to receive free or low-cost medications.
  • Needy Meds maintains an online database for you to search patient assistance programs, drug discounts, and low-cost healthcare in your area.
  • RX Assist allows you to search patient assistance programs provided by pharmaceutical companies.
  • Good Rx allows you to compare prescription drug prices at local pharmacies. The site offers coupons to help you identify the pharmacy with the lowest price.

Tell your doctor if you are having a hard time paying for medical prescriptions. He or she may offer free samples or prescribe a more affordable, generic version.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Georgia has many free STI (formerly known as STD) testing options. AID Atlanta offers free Rapid HIV tests and screenings for Chlamydia, Syphilis and Gonorrhea.  The organization also provides a free anonymous information line for Georgians called the Georgia AIDS and STI Information Line where individuals can receive accurate information STIs and about services available across the state.

You can use the CDC’s online tool to find free, confidential testing near you.

Low-Cost Dental Care

It is important to schedule regular dental check-ups to maintain oral health and detect dental health problems early. The Georgia Dental Association maintains a database of clinics that offer low-cost dental care in Georgia.