After the Affordable Care Act went into effect, all uninsured US citizens are supposed to be covered under some kind of health plan, whether it’s through the healthcare.gov Marketplace, Medicaid, Medicare, or other programs like Soonercare.
But what about patients who require medical attention but missed the open enrollment deadline of March 31 or just haven’t yet found affordable insurance? Most, if not all expenses, will be completely out of pocket. Still there are a few options for those needing medical care, even when living on a tight budget.
“What local resources are available for those who have no health insurance?”
*As there may be other resources available, the following information was supplied by some of the areas leading health care professionals.
Southwest Oklahoma Community Action Group
Open enrollment will begin again in November for anyone interested in signing up with a plan in the Marketplace. To assist with any questions on signing up for basic coverage, the Southwest Oklahoma Community Action Group has an official Affordable Care Act Navigator on staff offering for free assistance. However, if they have had a life changing event, they may qualify for special enrollment now.
“We have been able to find folks some insurance that was definitely affordable depending upon their income bracket,” said Affordable Care Act Navigator, Glenda Crouch. “There’s a lot of variables to it. It would just be very beneficial for them to make an appointment to come in and sit down to discuss their own situation.”
Crouch said that the Affordable Care Act does offer tax credits to help and assist those who fit into certain income brackets.
“We are just offering free assistance for folks to understand and apply for the Affordable Care Act.”
Jackson County Memorial Hospital
Uninsured patients can, and should, go directly to the Jackson County Memorial Hospital emergency room if there’s a critical matter. In the event of a life threatening emergency, always dial 911.
Patients admitted to the E.R. will receive treatment regardless the payment source, nor is payment requested at the time of service, explained JCMH Public Relations Director Bonnie McAskill in an interview.
“If the patient is unable to pay, he or she will be encouraged to work with a JCMH Financial Counselor,” McAskill said. “Depending on the patient’s financial circumstances, the patient may be eligible for a discount, an extended payment plan, or a complete balance write-off. The hospital’s policy is to assist patients to resolve their bills.”
When patients don’t settle or attempt to resolve their balances, their account is then turned over to a collection agency, McAskill explained.
Since the new Affordable Care Act went into effect, JCMH reports not seeing any patients that carry benefits from the Marketplace, and noted that there hasn’t been any significant reduction in the number of people without insurance.
Beside acute care, JCMH does offer a number of health screenings for the public that include a comprehensive Healthy Heart screening for $15 during “Heart Month” in February. Also, JCMH and the Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma, have hosted prostate cancer blood test screenings, skin cancer screenings, and has provided take-home kits for a colon cancer screening.
Jackson County Health Department
There are several other organizations that provide free screenings as well. The Jackson County Health Department functions to promote health within the county by offering various programs and services, and even offers limited free services like administering vaccines, taking vitals, and giving blood pressure readings.
JCHD can provide vaccines to anyone without insurance, or those with Medicaid, informed Administrative Director Karen Weaver. They’ve also been able to give vaccines to patients with insurance without any charge.
Currently JCHD is working to get a “Caring Van,” expected to arrive this Fall in the Southwest Oklahoma area, to provide on location vaccines for children.
Weaver said that they were approached by the Caring Van Foundation to share a mobile unit between nine counties including Jackson, Harmon, Greer, Tillman, and Beckham, as well as Comanche, Wichita, Cotton, and Kiowa counties. The van will be equipped with vaccinations, computers, and patient forms for providing care.
“We are not only wanting to do vaccines in this van but also dental screenings for kids,” Weaver said. “We are working with a dental service to see what they can put together.” Weaver said the goal of the Care Van is to provide preventative care rather than acute care.
For patients that need a doctor’s visit however, JCHD recommends scheduling a patient visit with Shortgrass Community Health Center Inc.
“If you really need health care, and a Doctor or Nurse Practitioner, that’s the place to go,” Weaver said. “Especially if you have no insurance. Shortgrass Community Health Center is one of the places that we refer our clients to that need to see a physician.”
Shortgrass Community Health Inc.,
As a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) located in Hollis, the Shortgrass Community Health Center meets both primary and preventative health care needs, and sees patients with or without health insurance. The center opened in October, 2012.
Administrative CEO Bill Sparks explained that the center provides standard primary care and has arrangements with other medical centers, hospitals, and groups for referring patients to for specialty services. Currently, Shortgrass serves as a medical clinic, behavioral heath clinic, and is in the process of adding dental health services.
“”We absolutely see anyone regardless their ability to pay,” Sparks said. “Essentially it’s an opportunity for easy access, affordable, and convenient health care, but we do not have specialty services on site.”
Being an FHQC, the center is partially funded by the federal government which means any charges for services are based upon a “sliding fee scale.” One’s total household income is figured in relation to the federal poverty level. Patients need to bring proof of household income to determine eligibility.
In addition, the center offers the 340B Drug Pricing Program which allows uninsured patients to purchase prescriptions at a reduced or discounted price.
The center is open Monday through Friday and accepts walk-ins. They also have arrangements with Southwest Transportation to help those unable to drive there.
The office does take all insurances including Sooner Care, and has helpful bi-lingual employees.
Pathways Pregnancy Resource Center
One local non-profit organization provides several free services for women of any age who might be pregnant, are expectant mothers, or mothers beginning to care for their baby.
Pathways Pregnancy Resource Center in Altus currently gives free pregnancy tests and offers parenting classes. Services are free, no insurance is charged, and it is completely confidential.
“We don’t offer any kind of continuing care or prenatal care, but we do referrals and send them on to doctors in women centers,” said Pathways Director Liz Moon.
Parents and guardians can attend parenting classes to work with a coach or attend video sessions. Those parents then earn points to purchase items that they need for their baby, like maternity clothes, baby beds, diapers, baby wipes, and clothing.
Moon said that in the future the center will be able to perform free ultrasounds for expectant mothers.
To contact any of the aforementioned organizations:
Southwest Oklahoma Community Action Group, Inc., - Glenda Crouch - (580) 482-5040
Jackson County Memorial Hospital - (580) 379-5000
Jackson County Health Department - (580) 482-7308
Shortgrass Community Health Inc., - (580) 688-3314
Pathways Pregnancy Resource Center - (580) 477-4400