Soaring costs and complex insurance policies often make the US healthcare system inaccessible to populations in the US living with limited means, a group that includes undocumented immigrant workers, the homeless population, individuals living below the poverty line, or some residents of low-income neighborhoods. These populations have a much harder time securing proper medical care due to lack of insurance and financial resources.
The US healthcare system relies on private insurance companies to process and negotiate claims, which means the price is determined by the insurance companies rather than the care facility. Individuals without insurance are often forced to pay out of pocket for simple procedures or scans, and the costs can be crippling. Considering many individuals in the low-income classification also have low-paying jobs that require physical labor, such as agricultural labor or construction, their risk of getting injured at work is higher than the risk for those with sedentary jobs.
Below are a few resources for these populations that can provide these individuals with reliable access to high-quality care:
1. Repatriation Services
These centers specialize in helping to provide healthcare for immigrants who may have trouble receiving proper care in the US due to lack of insurance, language barriers, lack of proper documentation, or lack of financial resources. In some cases, these care centers can arrange for transport for immigrants back to their home country to receive proper care.
These services are becoming more important as US health facilities are faced with an ever-growing number of migrant workers that are injured in their line of work. These providers can often become overwhelmed with the financial burdens and obligations in cases where injured workers and their families are devastated by a catastrophic and challenging medical situation. Fortunately for them, the medical personnel who staff repatriation centers are familiar with work-related accident protocol and have sufficient knowledge of the laws around treatment for work-related injuries.
In addition to the usual care services, repatriation centers can connect patients with a comprehensive suite of rehabilitative services that are often necessary following a severe injury. These include physical therapy, occupational therapy, ultrasonic therapy, electrostimulation, neuropsychological therapy, speech and swallowing therapy, and hydrotherapy. They also offer rehabilitative gyms that are fully equipped with physical therapy weights, cushions, and bars that help restore equilibrium, motor skills, coordination, and muscle strength. The ultimate post-treatment goal at these centers is to help patients return to work and restore their quality of life.
2. Community Health Clinics
Community clinics provide the majority of preventive healthcare services for immigrants and their families in the US. Nationwide, there are about 1,400 community health clinics in urban, suburban, and rural communities that can provide a range of basic primary and preventive healthcare services, including dental care, treatment for chronic conditions (e.g. heart disease and diabetes), routine cancer screenings, routine physical exams, and STI screenings. These centers are much more accessible to those of low-means and immigrants because they do not require that incoming patients present proof of their immigration status. They also charge much lower fees that correspond to a sliding scale based on an individual’s income level (or family’s income). Most community health clinics do not turn away patients if they do not have insurance or are otherwise unable to pay.
A list of these clinics can be found here.
3. Emergency Services Federal law requires hospitals to accept and care for any patients requiring acute care services, regardless of an individual’s insurance status, immigrant status, or ability to pay. Non-private hospitals receive federal funding to help cover costs for these patients. Unfortunately, many of these facilities cannot offer long-term care (e.g. rehabilitative services), even if that patient needs it since there is no federal funding for prolonged care. Hospitals are only required to provide care until the patient is stabilized. For undocumented patients, this is where repatriation services come in by helping patients develop and fund long-term recovery plans following acute or emergency care. However, for citizens of low means that qualify as “poverty level” in your particular state, you can be covered with premium assistance. Each state varies in policy, but in California, for example, if you reach a state of up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, you can qualify for premium government health assistance.