Even with all the problems facing it, the United States is still one of the richest and most advanced nations on earth. The typical standard of living remains quite high, and the level of medical care is unsurpassed – if it can be afforded. In spite of the superiority of the American health care system, it's a disturbing fact that millions of individuals and families do not have access to appropriate medical care because they have no insurance coverage. It's startling to note that from the years 2000 to 2006 health insurance costs have nearly doubled, putting it hopelessly out of the reach of many smaller employers, not to mention scores of private individuals. Those unable to afford the financial burden of health insurance typically have little alternative but to simply go without coverage – a risky proposition at best. Furthermore, it's ironic that hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and most health care providers in general charge uninsured patients more than those with insurance coverage – as much as four or five times more. In the face of such monumental challenges, what can the uninsured do?

Fortunately, if you're among the many without health care coverage, there are some courses of action that you can pursue. First, if you know in advance that you'll need treatment, inform your service provider or hospital beforehand that you have no insurance coverage and ask for a discounted price. If they choose not to accommodate your request, do your best to find a provider who will.

As a part of your search, don't neglect to explore your options for free health screenings by your local county health department or nonprofit agencies such as the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association. If you're a veteran, the Veterans Administration offers a network of hospitals that provide care and services at reduced rates (or completely free if you qualify). These agencies can be invaluable in both providing care and referring you to other organizations that may be of further assistance to you. For instance, you might qualify for Medicaid coverage, even if only temporarily (your local Social Services or public health agency will help to determine your eligibility). And if you're in need of prescription medications but don't have the money to buy them, ask your pharmacist for the contact information of the pharmaceutical manufacturer. Then contact the company directly to request a price discount. Some pharmaceutical companies may very well assist you, but you won't know until you ask.

If all these efforts fail (or even if they succeed in obtaining a discounted price for services and medication but you still find yourself facing a large bill that you simply cannot pay), don't panic – it isn't the end of the world. And before you charge it to your credit card, ask the provider to assist you by agreeing to accept a monthly payment plan. Even if they charge you interest (and, happily, not all of them will), it'll likely be significantly less than what your credit card company will hit you with.

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