How do I find free or low-cost health clinics near me?
Uninsured or unable to afford healthcare for any number of reasons? Fortunately, there are free and low-cost health clinics out there. But thanks to community health centers and free clinics across the country, there is affordable healthcare accessible to you. These free and low-cost clinics provide a range of medical services. These sliding-scale fee clinics provide the uninsured and underinsured with an array of care. Depending on the clinic, you may be able to access care from dental care to birth control. Even if you are uninsured, there are likely to be a number of healthcare facilities available to you.
How do I find a free or low-cost health clinic near me?
If you don’t qualify for Medicaid or CHIP and can’t afford health insurance, you still can get healthcare. By visiting a free or low-cost health clinic in your community, you can receive basic medical care.
Your first choice are community health centers. Sometimes called a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), these are government-run clinics that offer services on a sliding scale. Sometimes, this even means that care is at no-cost. These FQHCs include community health centers, migrant health centers, county health departments, and homeless shelter health centers. They exist so that those who are uninsured and would be otherwise unable to access care have a place to go. At a FQHC, what you pay will be based on your income level.
You can search here to find a community health center close to you.
There are also free clinics in many communities, independent providers that exist outside of the government safety net to serve those without healthcare access at no cost. Here, doctors and others volunteer their time and services to run these clinics. These types of clinics also usually use a sliding-scale for payment. This means some people may pay nothing for care, while others may pay a nominal fee based on what they can afford.
You can search here to find a free clinic in your community.
Are free clinics really free?
Some independent, volunteer-run free clinics really are free. However, most “free clinics” and all FQHC’s operate using a sliding scale for payment. So, they will be free to use for some. Others, though, may pay a small fee for care.
How much does a walk-in clinic cost?
A free clinic is not the same as a walk-in clinic, which is just any provider you can see without an appointment. Sometimes people use the phrase “walk-in clinic” to describe providers ranging from urgent care centers, emergency rooms, to retail clinics.
Urgent care centers typically have a doctor or mid-level practitioner who can see patients at all times they are open. They typically have x-ray machines on-site, too, and can treat anything ranging from broken bones to sinus infections to burns. They is a way to bridge the gap between primary care providers and emergency rooms. You might need to see a healthcare provider quickly, but for something that doesn’t warrant a trip to a hospital emergency room. And that’s exactly what an urgent care center is for. Depending on whether you have insurance or not, you may pay between $35 – $150 to visit an urgent care center.
A retail clinic is a walk-in clinic within a retail store, typically a standalone pharmacy or a store with a pharmacy in it. Usually, these clinics are staffed by mid-level providers, like a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. They are designed to be an accessible and affordable place to get care for basic illnesses and injuries. Retail clinics may even give some kinds of vaccinations. They are typically less expensive to go to than an urgent care facility. They are almost always cheaper to go to than the emergency room. You can expect to pay about $100 for the most common ailments that would bring someone to a retail clinic, like flu-like symptoms.
Emergency rooms are located within hospitals and if you are uninsured, are the most expensive way to get walk-in care. If you do not have insurance you could pay thousands of dollars for a single trip to the ER.
What services do free clinics provide?
Community health centers provide prenatal care, vaccines for babies and kids, general primary care, and can even make referrals for specialized care. And yes, that includes things like care for mental health, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS.
Many free clinics provide general primary care and make referrals when needed as well. You can check to see if these kinds of clinics in your area are able to treat babies and children. You can also check to see what vaccines or immunizations they may offer for children and adults, too.
Can free or low-cost health clinics write prescriptions?
Yes, as long as there is a licensed doctor present and on-staff, free and low-cost health clinics can write prescriptions. Again, the specific services at any free or low-cost health clinic may vary. You can check to see what services are provided where by searching for a clinic near you here.
Can anyone go to a free or low-cost health clinic?
Free and low-cost clinics, including FQHCs, exist to serve people who are low-income, uninsured, or have limited access to healthcare services. Those who typically go to FQHCs usually do not have Medicaid, or need help enrolling in Medicaid. There are some FQHCs that are specifically designated for serving the homeless. Usually, there are no specific requirements to be seen at a free clinic, meaning anyone can go there for healthcare regardless of income or immigration status.
How many free clinics are in the United States?
There are over 1,200 free or charitable volunteer-staffed free clinics in the United States. Furthermore, there are over 1,300 community health centers in America with over 11,000 service delivery sites among them. You can find an FQHC in your area here.
What other options do I have to find free or low-cost medical care?
If you are in specific need of family planning care, contraceptive counseling, and contraception dispensing, you can visit a designated Title X clinic. Title X is the federally-funded family planning program that makes these services available free of cost or at a nominal cost to anyone who needs them. You can find a Title X provider here.
Planned Parenthood health centers and a number of independent abortion clinics and reproductive healthcare providers also provide women’s health services, from Pap smears to STD testing to annual exams to even basic primary care, on a sliding-scale basis. You can find a Planned Parenthood clinic in your area here and an independent women’s clinic here.
Don’t forget that if you are in need of health insurance coverage, you should check to see what kind of subsidies you might qualify for on the health insurance Marketplace. By shopping through HealthSherpa or HealthCare.gov, you will automatically see your potential cost savings for a Marketplace health plan. In 2019, 51% of all of those who enrolled through HealthSherpa had monthly premiums of less than $50/mo after subsidies. 37% of enrollees had premiums of less than $25/mo. 26% of enrollees had premiums of less than $10/mo. And 18% of enrollees had premiums of $0 a month. Marketplace insurance can very well be affordable, even if you are worried that it’s not. By plan-comparing and shopping the Marketplace, you can get covered and learn how the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) subsidies and cost-sharing reductions might help get you the coverage you need at a minimal cost.
From nonprofit organizations to federal programs, there are a number of additional resources available to provide care to those who couldn’t afford it otherwise. If you have medical conditions and need care, you don’t have to go without it. From mental health services to prescription drugs, there are community health centers and free clinics designed to help provide health resources to those in need. Public health is designed to help you, so don’t be afraid to access these clinics to get the care you need.
Originally published on Nov 29, 2018.