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Health Care Hustlin': Advice for the Uninsured

Ideally we'd all be insured, but there are ways to get health care on the cheap.

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In our weekly Hustlin' series, we go beyond the pitying articles about recession-era youth and illuminate ways our generation is coping. The last few years may have been a rude awakening, but we're surviving. Here's how.\n

When I was in the ninth grade, my dad lost his job and our family no longer had health insurance. I attended a private, religious school on a massive scholarship. Growing up among rich kids, I was mortified that I couldn’t go to the doctor. Because I’ve always struggled with anxiety when it comes to money, this embarrassment led to hypochondria. As soon as I could not longer get health care, I developed every ailment in the world. That’s when I started using my anatomy and physiology teacher Mr. Klawsky as a health-care provider.


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“Hey Mr. Klawsky,” I’d say, poking my head into his lab classroom. “Let’s say I had some pain on the left side of my stomach like, right here,” I’d say, pointing to my lower abdomen. “Would that be like, my kidney and also what can I do to make it not hurt?”

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“Mr. K, hey!” I’d say, my face pressed against the glass window of the teacher’s lounge. “If I have this weird bump on my knee and it hurts, should I just ice it or do I have knee cancer? Also, is knee cancer a thing you can have?”

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“Gaby,” he’d reply, exasperated. “Once again, I am not a doctor. I can’t legally diagnose you.”

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“Right,” I’d say. “But like, my ear is kind of ringing, and what if I have scurvy?”

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Eventually my dad found another job and we had health insurance again. But my time spent with Mr. Klawsky taught me to be resourceful about health care. This came in handy recently, when I became part of the 25 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds who are uninsured. Here are some things I learned:

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Use Living Social to see a dentist. The same websites that offer discounted massages and gym memberships can also get you cheap dentist appointments. The only problem with these Groupon-type deals is they can be a way for the doctors offices to get you in and then scam you for more procedures. Stand firm. I checked over and over again that everything they were doing was covered by the coupon. It cost $80 for a teeth cleaning. The dentist tried to talk me into multiple other procedures, for $500 or more.

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Don’t let them get you. Get in, get what’s on the coupon, and get out.

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Find a therapist on a sliding scale. I live with depression, anxiety, and hypomania, and when I was uninsured, I thought that without health insurance I’d never be able to afford to treat my conditions.

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I was wrong. A quick Google search of “sliding scale therapy nyc” led me to OCMH, a fantastic group that does therapy on a sliding scale according to your income. I see someone for 90 minutes for $80, or 60 minutes for $40, depending on how my week is going income-wise. My therapist is a psychology student working toward the hours he needs to graduate. I assumed paying less for therapy meant the care wouldn’t be as good, but that’s not true. It’s been a huge help and hasn’t taken the big chunk out of my bank account I thought it would.

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Seek addiction treatment online. My father is a recovering addict and alcoholic who, during the time my family was uninsured, spent most of his days at free Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But for addiction recovery, there’s a newer free site called In the Rooms. It’s like Facebook for addicts and alcoholics, but the best feature is their video chat AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, addicts who need help can log on and find someone to talk to for free. The site’s been a big help for my father and his friends who can’t afford rehab or medical services. The site isn’t a cure or a replacement for more comprehensive recovery methods, but it can help when there’s no other option.

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Participate in clinical trials. If you’ve got some time—anywhere from an hour to two weeks—and you’re not queasy about needles, sign up for a clinical trial. You can get a checkup from professionals for free—sometimes they even pay you. Before each test begins, the subjects must be checked by doctors for any outlier medical conditions. When I didn’t have health insurance, I would peruse ClinicalTrials.gov like it was a Craigslist for health care. (I’d recommend not actually using Craigslist.) I’d stay away from anything too intense. Usually I ended up chickening out and just giving blood because I always feared I’d end up with fish gills on my neck and radioactive genitalia. This never happened to Robert Wohner, who wrote about how he spent two weeks at a clinical trial and made $2,000 for his trouble. Wohner was diagnosed and treated, for free, for high cholesterol and sleep apnea. (He also tested falsely positive for pericarditis, a common misdiagnosis in young African-American men, so it’s not a foolproof strategy.)

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To find a clinical trial, go to the CT site, type in your city, the word 'AND' in all capital letters, and something you’d like to help with testing for, and the site will pull up all the trials that are actively recruiting. Scroll through, read the description (and the fine print) and email the doctors to sign up.

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Take advantage of Planned Parenthood or a free clinic in your area. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where you have access to Planned Parenthood or a similar clinic, it can be a godsend for people without health insurance. They offer sliding scale services.

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Of course, going on birth control (the main reason I visited PP) can be pricey. My pill, Ortho-tri Cyclen Lo, costs $110 a pack without insurance. With insurance, it was only around $15. While I was without insurance, I went a full year without birth control pills, which I’d been prescribed at age 14 for severe cramps. This meant a year of feeling just lovely once a month, because I didn’t have a spare $110 for the pills. The only health care shortcut I tried was going on a more generic, less expensive pill, but my uterus is a fickle beast and only wanted that sweet, sweet OTC-Lo. If yours is more resilient, give another lower-cost pill a try.

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Being without health insurance is incredibly stressful. A week before I was once again insured, I tripped on a Brooklyn sidewalk and my ankle swelled grotesquely. An X-ray would have emptied my savings. Luckily, days of icing and elevation did the trick. Ideally, we'd all have health care we can afford. Until then, there are stopgap ways to dodge the system and get some much-needed treatment.

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Photo via (cc) Flickr user 401K.

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Articles

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





Culture
via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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Politics

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.

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