You’re Uninsured. Now What?
You can’t predict when it will happen, but it will. The second you’re uninsured and don’t have any extra money sitting around, that’s when disaster strikes. We’ve all been there. It’s scary, but don’t panic: Los Angeles does have services for when you’re uninsured and broke. You just have to know where to go.
Emergency Room Services: LA County Medical
By law, any emergency room is required to treat you, regardless of your insurance or income status. But at the end, you’ll be left holding the bill. If you’re uninsured and meet the eligibility requirements for low-income (especially if you’ve just been fired, laid off, or for any other reason don’t have work right now), LA County will work with you to set up a payment plan. They have several financial aid programs and their financial staff is well-versed and nonjudgmental. On the flip side, be prepared for a long wait, and a long time in the emergency room getting your treatment. LA County gets a large homeless clientele, so be prepared for that too. But don’t let that fool you, LA County is a very good hospital and the treatment you receive won’t suffer for your inability to pay. They’re open 24/7.
Crisis Mental Health Services: Olive View Medical
Opened in 2011, the Olive View Mental Health Urgent Care has been called “the jewel of the Los Angeles County mental health system.” They’re one of the few urgent care centers in SoCal for mental health emergencies, and they specialize in the uninsured, particularly the unemployed. It’s $700 if you have full-time benefits employment, but for everyone else, there are subsidy programs and financial aid. If you need to see a psychiatrist (someone who has the ability to prescribe medication, versus a therapist), Olive View is the place to go. They’re open 8am-8pm during weekdays, and 8am-5pm on Saturdays.
Counseling Services: Southern California Counseling Center
Even if you have full-time employment with benefits, the counseling provided by your HMO is often less than adequate, but paying full-price can often run you $100 a month or more. This is where the Southern California Counseling Center comes in. They assess your price based on need and income. You’ll be set up with a new counselor who’s still in training, but educated enough to take on his or her own patient, under the supervision of a professional. They do walk-in intakes Monday -Thursday 6pm-8pm, and Saturday 12pm-2pm.
Prescription Drug Coverage: Partnership for Prescription Assistance
A free program, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance helps link you with assistance programs you’re eligible for, based on the prescriptions you need. Kind of like a Tinder for your meds. They’ve got hundreds of programs in their database, many of which are offered by biopharmaceutical companies. If you’re having trouble getting the meds you need, give them a call. It’s free!
Low-Income Dental Care: Denti-Cal
Finding a dentist to work with your income and lack of insurance really depends on what you need done. A cleaning or a simple cavity filling will be much easier than a more complicated procedure, especially one requiring gas, painkillers, or other sedatives. (Yet another great reason to not put it off and schedule those routine cleanings!) Even if you have good insurance, dental insurance is really limiting. This isn’t just an LA thing, this is an everywhere thing. Sorry this list isn’t more helpful, but it’s a start.
STD Testing: Safer STD Testing LA
Don’t assume that since you don’t look like a leper you don’t need to go in. You should be getting checked regularly, especially if you’re getting out there and, ya know, meeting people. Be sure to call ahead when you’re planning a trip to the free clinic, the hours can really vary and so can the payment plan. If you’re fully employed and making a decent income, expect an STD panel to run about $100 a pop. But if you can’t swing that, for any reason, don’t be afraid to speak up! It’s much more important that you’re looking out for your health and most places will have some sort of payment plan or discount to offer you. Also on the topic of the general STD panel: if there’s something in particular that you’re worried about, don’t be afraid to speak up. Let them know when you get there so they can address your concern and add it to the test if it’s not already on the panel. This list names the clinics that offer free STD testing, but you’d be wise to call ahead first to make sure before you go in.
Birth control: Planned Parenthood’s Family PACT Program
Dedicated to making sure that everyone who wants birth control can afford it, Planned Parenthood of California’s PACT program provides free birth control services to people with no insurance, insurance that doesn’t cover birth control (although that’s becoming exceedingly rare), or people on an insurance plan who don’t want the providers of that insurance plan to know they’re on birth control. Give them a call and fill out an online form, and they’ll work with you. (Meanwhile, women’s birth control pills just became legal over the counter, so rejoice in one fewer doctor visit, ladies!)
A little planning can go a long way. Check out Covered California, the state’s marketplace portal for the affordable care act, for plans and discounts available to you. If you’re unemployed and meet income eligibility, you might qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s free or very low-cost insurance plan. Keep in mind that you have 60 days after a “qualifying event”, like losing your current insurance or moving to California from out of state, to apply for Covered California, but you can apply for Medi-Cal any time.