How to Find a Free or Low-Cost Health Clinic

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had a major impact on health coverage by providing Medicaid to many low-income individuals as well as savings options for individuals and families seeking health insurance through the Marketplace. Yet there are still millions of people without insurance, many of whom cite the high cost of not having coverage. Uninsured people face medical bills they cannot pay when receiving care and often go to the emergency room. Many uninsured people don’t realize that the emergency room is not the only option. So where do you go when you have no insurance or insufficient coverage? There are likely some options in your area that you may not have considered yet.

Where can you get free or low-cost health care?

If you are uninsured, have insufficient coverage, or are not eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), you can get low-cost health care at a nearby community health center. . These low-cost clinics provide primary and preventive health care, typically at rates that are based on a sliding scale and accessible to all. Care is provided even if you don’t have insurance or can’t pay.

Community medical centers

Community Health Centers are community clinics whose patients are people with limited access to health care . These clinics are generally the best option for low-income individuals, as they provide comprehensive, culturally competent, and high-quality primary health care .  

Medical centers also include access to pharmacy, mental health, substance use disorder, and dental services in areas where economic, geographic, or cultural barriers limit access to affordable medical services. You can find one of these federally funded community clinics in your area. Many offer free or low-cost treatment, and the cost is usually determined on a sliding fee scale. In addition to the community health center, there are other free or low-cost options:

Your Primary Care Physician

If your coverage is insufficient and you have a primary care doctor, consider speaking with your doctor in advance to let them know that you are having difficulty paying the full cost.

Some medical offices receive cash payments. In some cases, you can ask your doctor if they offer discounts for cash payments. They can also help you find programs that help pay for part of your care or drug costs.

Urgent Care

Many people assume that the best option in the face of illness is to go to the emergency room, but emergency rooms can be expensive. For non-emergency situations, find an urgent care center in your area. Urgent care usually offers same-day treatment for non-emergency health problems. Illnesses such as the flu, colds, and sore throats are usually treated during one visit.

You can walk into most urgent care centers without an appointment. They often have much lower costs than ER visits, wait times are shorter, and staff are more responsive, in most cases. Urgent care centers also have equipment similar to an emergency room, so they can treat more than just a cold. Each center varies, so call ahead to make sure they can provide care when you arrive; an average visit to an urgent care center costs between $ 50 and $ 150.

Walk-In Clinics

Sometimes local pharmacy clinics or within a hospital are an affordable option. Usually there is a nurse practitioner or physician assistant and they have teams to treat minor ailments, provide vaccinations as well as prescribe and dispense some medications. These clinics accept most private insurance for people who have coverage, in addition to Medicare and Medicaid. The price of the visit  can vary between $ 80 and $ 90, with additional charges for laboratory tests.

Clinics in University Premises

University Campus Clinics According to the ACA, younger people can stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26 years old. However, for people whose parents do not have insurance, a good option for college students is the college clinic. These clinics vary by college, but are generally similar to an outpatient clinic. Students can access a variety of services such as physical exams, contraceptives, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, chronic disease management, and immunizations at little or no cost.

Family planning

Planned Parenthood is an excellent choice for a range of low-cost medical services that go beyond reproductive care. At Planned Parenthood, treatment is available to everyone, regardless of gender and whether or not they have insurance. Planned Parenthood offers most of its services on a sliding scale – the cost is based on your last few weeks of income to create a pay scale that it deems fair for your situation. The scale varies by location, but this cost calculator can give you a good idea of ​​its cost.  

How do I find the closest health center?

You can find an HRSA-funded health center by visiting: https://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/ . For an urgent care or outpatient clinic, you can do a quick search to find a variety of options. Some additional resources are:

  • Healthfinder.gov
  • FindCare.org
  • NeedyMeds
  • FreeClinics.com

How much do these services cost?

They can vary by clinic. It is best to call ahead and ask how much the visit costs. Many medical centers and providers offer payment plans. Check with your provider.

When you make an appointment, tell the doctor’s office that you are uninsured and ask if they offer discounted rates, if they don’t, or if they are Too expensive for you, call other offices in the area, as some may offer less expensive services than others. If you do, paying a little over a period of time can help make services more accessible.

For prescription drugs, request drug samples or Generic Options (they will be less expensive than brand name drugs). You can also use NeedyMeds to find help with the cost of medications.

Laboratory tests can be necessary and expensive, but there is a choice where to test. The price of laboratory tests can differ greatly. You can look up the cost of common tests , which will give you an idea of ​​the cost in your area.

We understand that the cost of health insurance can be daunting for many. But if you are uninsured and not eligible for Medicare or CHIP, we recommend that you consider an ACA plan. Among the people who signed up for HealthSherpa, 8 out of 10 people qualify for savings and most of them pay less than $ 100 per month. Also, 25% of the people who have signed up with us have found a plan for $ 10 or less per month.