Lifelines for the uninsured

Lifelines for the uninsured

Options for the down-but-not-out

July 2nd, 2009 by Emily Bregel in Life Entertainment


Foundation for Health Coverage Education: Visit or call (800) 243-1317 for state-specific options for the uninsured.


* Partnership for Prescription Assistance: 1-888-4PPA-NOW or visit Connects people who cannot afford their drugs with prescription-assistance programs. Many get medicine free or nearly free.

* Provides applications for prescription assistance programs.

* CoverRx: Program of Cover Tennessee, limited to five prescriptions per month, plus diabetic supplies and insulin.

* Hamilton County Drug Discount Card: 877-321-2652.

Local public health clinics are being inundated with calls from those who have lost their health insurance, local health advocates said.

"I'm talking continually, daily with folks who are losing their jobs," said Pat Dennison of Volunteers in Medicine, a primary care clinic for the uninsured in Chattanooga. "At this point we are definitely seeing the impact (of the recession) in the community."

Health care advocates say don't panic if you're losing your job and with it, health insurance: The first step for the recently unemployed is to check on eligibility for unemployment benefits. Second, begin looking into alternative ways to pay for health expenses, Mr. Dennison said.

* Apply for COBRA: The federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, allows individuals to extend their health benefits in the case of job loss for 18 months. Participants, who have to sign up within 60 days of the job loss, typically have to pay the full premium themselves but funding from the economic stimulus package means that, at least this year, recipients only have to pay 35 percent of that premium.

* Research public insurance options: In Tennessee, the major public health insurance programs are TennCare, the state's managed Medicaid program, and Cover Tennessee, a state-supported insurance program. It includes a comprehensive program for children, Cover Kids, and the state's high-risk pool, AccessTN, for people with disabilities or preexisting conditions that make getting insurance on the private market unaffordable. Tennesseans Between Jobs, part of Cover Tennessee, offers coverage to the recently unemployed or those who have had work hours reduced to less than 20 hours per week. Visit

* Get on a family member's plan: The recently unemployed have a 30-day window in which to enroll in a family member's plan, even if that plan is not in open enrollment, said Cheryl Fish-Parcham of advocacy group Families USA. For those who have lost a job due to trade policy -- as in a company moving overseas -- the Trade Adjustment Act can guarantee continuation of health benefits for former employees and fund 80 percent of the premiums, she said. Check with the U.S. Department of Labor.

* Don't rule out private insurance: If you've already exhausted COBRA and other alternatives, private insurance could still be an option. For most people, other than the young and healthy, the premiums can be prohibitively expensive. Still, a healthy 20-something could probably get an individual plan for around $125 a month, said Russ Blakely, local insurance broker. For those with preexisting conditions who meet certain criteria and have already exhausted COBRA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits private insurance companies from denying coverage. Those "guarantee-issue" plans can be very expensive, but for those in the midst of costly medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, they're an alternative to bankruptcy, Mr. Blakely said.

* Short-term insurance: For those who may have another job on the horizon, short-term insurance policies can bridge the gap for between one month and 12 months. Those policies won't cover preexisting conditions, but can at least offer some protection in the case of a catastrophic injury, Mr. Blakely said.

* Find low-cost or free care options: Federally qualified community health centers, like the Southside and Dodson Avenue centers and the public health department's clinic, offer care on a sliding-scale based on income. Project Access and Volunteers in Medicine offer free medical care to qualified uninsured residents of Hamilton County.

* Work with your provider: Those with long-term relationships with their family doctors can sometimes work out a payment plan or discounted care, Ms. Dennison said. She recommends approaching the doctor directly and asking about options.