3. Hire a negotiator
Medical-billing advocates liken a fat medical bill to a car's sticker price. "It's just the starting point for negotiation," says Nick Newsad, senior associate at HealthCare Appraisers Inc. and author of The Medical Bill Survival Guide.
Medical-care advocates help consumers deal with insurers, shop around for care, haggle with providers and fight hospital billing errors. Most work on an hourly or contingency basis, charging a 15 to 50 percent commission on the saved amount. Hiring an advocate can be pricey (to find one, search online for a health care advocate or health care appraiser in your area), but it might stave off disaster if uninsured costs balloon out of control.
4. Visit a health fair
Each April, Rory Turner, 59, attends the Cleveland Clinic's Minority Men's Health Fair to get information on administering and monitoring his insulin. In churches, malls and corporate offices around the country, such health-fair events bring volunteer medical professionals to people who could not afford them otherwise. Most are sponsored by hospitals, university medical centers and corporations. (Search "health fairs" to find one near you.)
Physicians stress that health fairs are not meant to replace regular doctor visits. But the free screenings — for blood pressure, cholesterol, glaucoma, bone density and body-fat measurement — can help underserved patients connect with the health care system. In doing so, they also "educate and prevent and identify disease early," says Carrie Maffeo, director of the Health Education Center at Butler University's College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Indianapolis. The center has hosted more than 600 free screenings for chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
No, a yearly free screening or a flu shot isn't an alternative to full medical coverage. But for the millions who lack health insurance, even a little help can make a lifesaving difference.