By Nicole Collier
When it comes to affording health care while in college, uninsured students struggle the most. While the proportion of uninsured students visiting the University of Georgia Health Center hover around 1%, Steven Rose, marketing and communication manager at the UHC said, those students still have options when it comes to affording health care.
“No student should let an inability to pay be a reason not to seek medical care or mental health help when needed,” Rose said in an email.
For UGA students, insurance is not needed to see a doctor. Students who need to seek medical care without the ability to pay have resources that are available to them.
There is access to funding at the health center that “can be used to offset, or in some cases, eliminate those costs,” Rose said. No documentation is required to prove that you do not have insurance, but students must report the funding they receive for financial aid purposes, according to Rose.
Health insurance policies are available through UGA Human Resources. Student Care and Outreach also has options for funding for students.
Students may access the primary care clinic, the gynecology clinic, and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) with no out-of-pocket cost to the student, Rose said. A health fee is mandatory for most students and is paid with tuition each semester. In 2022, the health fee was $206 per semester.
“There may be other fees associated with office visits for things like diagnostic testing or prescriptions for medication, but we can file insurance for those. There are very few students who come to us without insurance (only about 1% of patients have no insurance),” said Rose.
SCO works with the Office of Student Financial Aid to determine a student’s Cost of Attendance (COA), which includes estimates of tuition and fees, housing, food, transportation, and miscellaneous personal expenses. Funding can be provided for medical bills, medications or other health-related costs, and mental health care, according to the website.
Students may also get their flu vaccine at no cost.
“Students have been able to walk up to any of the almost 80 mobile clinics around campus, get a flu shot in less than five minutes, and continue on with their day with no appointment needed and at no cost to them,” said Rose.
For students in Athens who do not go to UGA, several options are available. St. Mary’s Health Care System has charity care programs available and its staff can help anyone apply for government assistance if they qualify. In Athens, Community Internal Medicine of Athens provides a 50% discount for patients.
CIMA services are provided through St. Mary’s and the AU/UGA Internal Medicine Residency Program. Also, Mercy Health Center provides free care and Athens Neighborhood Health Center is a Federally Qualified Health Center.
“If you are uninsured but do not qualify for assistance, you should be aware that the least expensive choice for care is a primary care physician, followed by urgent care. But students should also look into options for insurance coverage,” said Mark Ralston, public relations manager at St. Mary’s Health Care System in an email.
Affordable insurance is available through Healthcare Marketplace at Healthcare.gov. There are also resources available at Piedmont Athens Regional. Several options are available for non-emergency services as well as emergency services. If you are outside of Athens, look for a Federally Qualified Health Center near you.
A student may find themselves in an emergency situation but do not seek care due to financial reasons. That can be extremely dangerous and only complicate your situation further, said Ralston. Students should be aware that the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act states hospitals that offer emergency services must care for any person, regardless of their ability to pay. Suffering in silence due to financial reasons will only endanger your health more.
Luke Smith, a student who used to be without health insurance, waited four days with worsening abdominal pain before he sought medical care. He ended up needing to have his appendix removed.
“The money side of things definitely influenced the decision to wait and make sure that it wasn’t something else,” Smith said.
If he waited any longer, the possibility of his appendix rupturing increased significantly, Smith said. Smith was able to get his emergency hospital bill completely covered by writing to the hospital explaining his circumstances.
He had his grandmother help him write a letter demonstrating his hardships. He explained he was not working, he was a student, and his parents were not in a position to pay his bill either.
They ended up writing back and eventually took care of the whole bill which Smith described as being “really helpful.”
“I think most people don’t even know to even reach out like that. They just start paying or try to figure out a way to pay,” Smith said. “I mean you should always at least try to write them a letter and explain your situation. I know in situations where it’s a planned procedure, it’s different, but if you’re in the situation where it’s like an emergency, at least in my experience, it worked out pretty well.”
The resources above are options available to students who do not have the means to pay a hospital or doctor’s bill. There are financial aid offices located in each medical facility that might be able to assist and offer resources to students with financial hardship.
Regardless, Ralston said, financial limitations are not worth your life.
“Do not risk your life over concerns about cost,” said Ralston.
Nicole Collier is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.