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Emergencies? What emergencies?

Well, the good news is that you do have a health insurance plan. So many people today are finding it too difficult to keep their insurance in place. The bad news is that it may still be difficult to get treatment. Huh? Well, accidents and sickness don't always strike at the most convenient times. Because there's a shortage of physicians prepared to work in general practice, it's often difficult to get a same or next day appointment. Worse, getting access to your physician at night or over the weekend can be next to impossible. Too many prefer working conventional office hours and will not offer a service out of hours. Very few offer any kind of telephone advice service to cover the gap.

This leaves you with self-treatment (not always so reliable) or one of the alternatives. Starting in drugstores and now spreading, there are a new run of walk-in retail clinics staffed by nurse practitioners. These are open 24/7 and offer basic treatment for non-threatening conditions for a set fee. An increasing number of health insurance companies cover visits to these clinics for a modest copayment. Check out the wording on your policy.

If your injuries or sickness are more serious, you can try one of the urgent-care centers/clinics. These are staffed by physicians but their opening times are limited to nights and weekends. They are not open 24/7! But, as with the retail clinics, more insurance companies will cover a visit for a copayment.

Why is the emergency room the last on this list? Well there are two main reasons. The first is that waiting times are growing ever longer in hospitals as more people head in there for treatment. If this is not a major emergency, you will get treatment faster in an urgent-care center. More importantly, the copayments required in a hospital tend to start at $100 and go up.

Big warning: if you go to an emergency room and your health insurer does not classify your problem as an emergency, you have to pay the whole bill for treatment. So what are emergencies? If the injury is acute or the sickness serious, there is unlikely to be a problem. It is always better to be safe than sorry. But it's not an emergency if you have a throat infection or your chest is wheezing. Minor skin problems, bug bites or problems in sleeping will not be covered. If you do have a chronic condition, the symptoms must have significantly worsened if this is to be an emergency. It's almost impossible to count having a prescription refilled as an emergency.


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