If You DO NOT Have Health Insurance
Finding a doctor when you do not have any health insurance can be tricky. Although you are not limited by an insurance plan, you are of course limited by your finances and how much money you can pay out of pocket.
What are your options if you don’t have health insurance?
- Find a Doctor and Pay Out of Pocket
My advice for uninsured people who want to go to a traditional office and find a doctor is similar to my advice for those who have insurance. Although you won’t have to find out who is covered by your insurance plan, it is still a good idea to ask around and get recommendations. You will then need to call the office and see if the doctor you have chosen will accept you as a new patient and what types of options they offer for patients who are self-pay. Some doctors offer discounts or will set up payment plans for their patients who do not have insurance -- but you will need to ask so you aren’t surprised when you get to your appointment.
UCompare Healthcare is a sister site of About.com that can help you find a doctor, hospital or nursing home in your area.
- Contact Your Local Health Department
Not all health departments have doctors that can see patients for sick visits, but many do, so it is worth a call to see if yours does. If you don’t know where your local health department is, you can check in your phone book. The CDC also has a tool to help you locate your state’s health department, and many state websites also have listings of all of their local health departments.
- Find a Walk-in Clinic
If your illness is not likely to be very severe or complicated, you may want to try a walk-in clinic. These are popping up all over the country in pharmacies, drugstores and shopping centers. They are usually staffed by nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants who have been trained to treat common illnesses and complaints. They are usually fairly quick and inexpensive. However, if you have serious medical issues or chronic medical problems, these are probably not your best option.
- Visit and Urgent Care Facility or Emergency Room
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you can go to an urgent care facility or an emergency room. Urgent care facilities usually have more equipment and can handle slightly more than a regular doctor's office can, but are not attached to hospitals and do not handle complex cases like emergency rooms do. Typically you will have to pay some amount of money up front in urgent care facilities.
Emergency rooms really should only be used for true emergencies or problems that absolutely cannot wait until a doctor’s office or other type of healthcare facility is open. Most of our country’s emergency rooms are overcrowded with people who do not need to be there. Although they do not require payment up front, going to an emergency room when it is not necessary puts a strain on the hospital and the community.
If you need help finding health insurance and want to know more about your options, check out Health Insurance 101.
In a Nutshell
Finding a doctor when you are sick is a hassle, whether you have health insurance or not. These steps will hopefully make it easier. If you aren’t sick yet, go ahead and try to find a doctor so you can avoid this scenario in the future.
You may also want to check your symptoms and see if a visit to the doctor is really even necessary.