No health insurance? The emergency room usually shouldn’t be your first stop. Here’s where you should go for help.

[Consumer Reports Health]


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  1. kepler11 says:

    I can’t watch the video at work. Can you just say who?

    • Sean Masters says:

      @kepler11: “1st stop: local social services to see if you qualify for medicaid. 2nd stop: health screening fairs for various free tests. 3rd stop: community health centers.”

      Yeah, why there is no write-up accompanying this video is beyond me.

    • GitEmHomerJay! says:

      @kepler11: Chuck Norris.

    • CubFx says:

      @kepler11: I agree 100%, video posts need a writeup of some sort.

      It goes beyond someone not being able to watch video segments at work, some of us are unable to hear the audio. I almost always skip internet video because they are rarely captioned. While I realize the deaf or hearing-impaired are a fairly small market segment, they are a forgotten one in the internet video craze.

      How hard is it to provide captioning for videos? Unfortunately, harder than it should be. The current standard, flash video, only supported closed-captioning starting in CS3. Further, the interface to closed captioning is hardly user-friendly or UI friendly. It looks and feels like a kludge.

      Let’s hope that Adobe and Microsoft (the developers of flash video and silverlight video) catch on and improve their products support of captioning. I doubt it will happen anytime soon, but hope springs eternal.

      • Andrew Greenman says:


        Amen to that. I’m Deaf and constantly feel left out whenever there’s a video. Even on major news sites like CNN, MSNBC, etc, there aren’t any CC/subtitles. Really sad.

        • ajlei says:

          @CubFx: I’m not even deaf and I hate it when video’s the only option. I don’t like people reading my news to me, I’d rather read it than listen to someone take their time and be dramatic or theatrical when it’s something like a news article that I’d rather just read.

          • TomCoughlin says:

            @ajlei: Yeah, not to move this farther off-topic, but I totally agree. One of my most hated Internet/blog trends, and one that definitely seems to be increasing, using video for something that absolutely does not require it.

            If I click on a link to something that sounds interesting, and a video starts to load, I immediately click it shut. 90% of my time spent browsing online is at work while taking a short break to catch up on what’s going on. I’m not gonna spend that time on a ten minute video learning something that I could have read in a minute if it was written out.

            Obviously, if it’s something that already made and you’re just embedding it from elsewhere, I don’t expect transcription or anything, but maybe just sum up the key points. But the ones that really get me are the “talking head” videos, wherein a couple bloggers sit in front of their webcams and debate something. Who cares. Write an article, or a blog post or something.

  2. MissPiss says: matter what is said or done, the ER is always the first stop for the uninsured, because they have to take anyone who walks in for any reason. And especially illegal immigrants that are uninsured. I work at a hospital we like to call “Immigration Ground Zero”. Our tax dollars hard at work!

    • MooseOfReason says:

      @MissPiss: Incoming flamers in three, two…

    • ChuckECheese says:

      @MissPiss: I agree utterly. Many don’t realize that restrictions to welfare around the country have led to immigrants (legal or not) being refused all public welfare services in many states. The old chestnut about “immigrants on welfare” isn’t so true anymore. The unintended consequence is that immigrants have nowhere else to go for medical care but the ER.

      Public clinics vary a great deal from place to place in access, services and availability, but there are usually too few of them and they are overused.

      Medicaid is a great idea for those who qualify. But a medical crisis is not when most people think about or take time out for applying for welfare, which tends to be a complicated and burdensome process.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @MissPiss: I’m quite relieved that when homicidal bacteria and viruses waft my way, upon realizing I hold a US passport, they exit, stage left with a heartfelt apology.

    • Mary Marsala with Fries says:

      @MissPiss: Yes, thank goodness those tax dollars aren’t working, at much lower cost, to provide good care and preventative medicine for everyone.

  3. Julia789 says:

    If you plan on *paying* for your healthcare, an immediate medical center or walk in center is much cheaper than the E.R. However, they will ask for payment when you go in. The people who go to the E.R. when it’s not an emergency do so because they do not require payment on the spot – so billing can be dodged later. Otherwise, they’d go to the walk-in centers usually located in the same building as the E.R. where they’d get faster and cheaper care.

    Why can’t Emergency Rooms kick out people with colds and earaches who are obviously there for free care? Because by law, they cannot be asked to leave until they’ve been examined by a physician. This is because sometimes innocent symptoms can mask a serious disease (stroke, heart attack, etc.)

    • Mary Marsala with Fries says:

      @Julia789: Other than the loaded word “dodged”, I agree with this. It’s true that people go to the ER because it’s the only place they can get care if they don’t have money. But the way you say it, you obviously assume you’ll never be one of them. Let’s hope you’re right, eh?

  4. LordofBacon says:

    One should also check with your state law on medical billing practices. Here in California the law requires that an uninsured patient be billed at no higher than the medicare/medical rate for any billable procedure. The hospital will NOT tell you this, so it’s up to you to make sure that you know the law.

    • frank64 says:

      @LordofBacon: In Mass, I think the law says 3 times more than they would bill insurance companies- at least from my experience!

      That is one reason you need insurance, you really can’t decide to pay your own way if you want to.

  5. dougyfresh says:

    Emergency Rooms charge for service?!??!?!! WHO KNEW!

    • nakedscience says:

      @dougyfresh: What is wrong with you?

      • dougyfresh says:


        It just seemed like a very silly opening question. Of course the ER is going to charge you for using it, it’s just like when you have some other kind of emergency (say a pipe busts in your home). You don’t expect the plumber to just come over and do the work pro-bono, why would a hospital visit be any different?

  6. Mary Marsala with Fries says:

    Hey, actually, I’m REALLY impressed with this video. In under five minutes it outlines the three best options for people who are stuck paying for care and need to make it cost as little as possible. While it’s easy to focus on how freaking disgusting it is that people in this supposedly-advanced first-world country are even put in that situation, it’s nonetheless incredibly important to mitigate the damage done by our misguided pro-corporate politics by providing this information.

    To summarize (and admittedly, opine), for those who can’t or won’t watch the video:
    1. ERs will see you, but they charge an arm and a leg, and are very aggressive about chasing you for the money. (I would add that, for people who can’t pay *at all*, the size of the bill hardly matters; it is good for people who have some money–but not enough for the exorbitant cost of health insurance–to know how to keep the bill low.)
    2. Apply for Medicaid or state assistance, especially if it’s for your kids. (Fun fact not mentioned: unlike private health insurance, government programs won’t turn you down because you’re already sick!) I can personally attest to how amazingly handy the CHIP program is; it paid for a $50,000 emergency surgery my daughter needed at 4 mos. Even though I was unemployed, I didn’t qualify for Medicaid — but she did, because most kids under 1 year old qualify by default. Yes, applying sucks, but if it gets you out of that medical bill it’s worth the hassle!
    3. Look for Community Health Screenings and other events. They’re common at churches, etc., and a phone call to local nonprofits or the state health department can often lead you to a list of what ones are being held, when and where. Take the freebies where you can!
    4. If you can’t get any freebies, the video suggests going to a doctor, hospital or clinic and asking for a deal, a break, and/or a payment plan. It’s a long shot, but considering the savings, probably worth it. I would add that you should check multiple places if you possibly can, and if you’re a woman, a minority, an immigrant or any of the other oft-discriminated-against members of our supposedly-equal society, make sure you try places that are likely to be cool to you. If you’re a black woman looking for contraception, for example, Whitey McWhiterson’s Catholic Emporium is probably not your best bet. Sad but true.

    I’m totally reposting this video on my site. Kudos to the ConsumerReportsIst for providing clear and useful info on an important topic — I’m proud!!

  7. Apeweek says:

    My in-laws’ family have all been self-employed and uninsured for decades. We live near the Canadian border, and they all have Canadian doctors.

    Of course, Americans aren’t eligible for free Canadian health care, but Americans can pay for doctor and hospital visits there – apparently at a much lower cost than here in the USA.

  8. frank64 says:

    There are really no easy answers. Health Care is expensive no matter how we pay for it.

    Here is an article from a doctor that doesn’t post such a rosy picture in Canada. Costs are managed by rationing, even life threatening issues. Only half the emergency room patients are seen in a timely manner. People are paying for it on their own or coming to the US.

    One person I know who lives there says that people with pretty serious issues are sent home and told to come back multiple times.

    This and their taxes are through the roof.


  9. oneandone says:

    I’ve noticed some supermarkets and pharmacies have different kinds of health screenings – mostly blood pressure and blood sugar, sometimes vision. I’ve never had to use them, but it might be worth checking out if there are free screening services in places you shop.

    Also, CVS advertises the ‘minute clinic’ – anyone have any experiences with them? From the marketing, they seem to be free, but it’s hard to tell.

    Not sure if any of these were mentioned in the video, since I can’t watch it….