How Do Poor People Get Health Insurance?

Providing family coverage is important.

Health insurance is a major part of most budgets, but if you've lost your job or are simply struggling to pay the rent, you might be tempted to go unprotected. There are many different alternatives, depending on your income and the state in which you live. If you have children, every state has free or low cost health insurance for children. Some states also have plans for families in need of insurance.


If you need health care immediately, don't wait to find an affordable health plan. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an arm of the United States Department of Health and Human Resources, has free clinics in most areas (see "Resources"). You simply put in your address and you'll find those closest to your home. The clinic bases your cost on your income. Hill-Burton Facilities, one's that received grants from the government, provide reduced-cost or free health care also.

Child Insurance

Your state participates in CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program. It's a partnership between the states and the federal government to provide low cost health insurance to the working poor, families that make too much for Medicaid but can't afford the cost of private insurance. Every state has a program that differs in qualifications based on income. All states, however, provide insurance that includes routine checkups, immunizations, dental, lab services, X-rays and both in and out patient services. All preventive care is free, but some services might require a copayment. Newer legislation, the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA), signed in 2009, extends the coverage to more children.

Family State Programs

Many states offer programs for not just children but for low-income families. These, too, are for those who do not qualify for Medicaid, but still can't afford the high premiums of a private insurance plan. You'll find some of these plans for your state by using the state map shown on at the Foundation for Health Coverage.


Many organizations offer supplemented health insurance. The Foundation for Health Coverage Education, for example, has organized all the options for free or subsidized health insurance and located the information on its site (see "Resources"). The site features a test that helps you discover the best option for health insurance based on your income, state of health and family age and size.

The U.S. Uninsured Help Line

The U.S. Uninsured Help Line offers 24-hour service 7 days a week to help families find free or low-cost health insurance options. It tells you what options are available, connects you to the plans you qualify for and provides additional resources that might benefit you. The insurance help line receives its funding from the WellPoint Foundation, Inc. You can contact it by calling the toll free number: 1-800-234-1317.


Medicaid covers people of all ages who have an income within specific guidelines. Those who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) get Medicare automatically. Medicaid income guidelines vary from state to state but may range between $700 and $800 monthly maximum for single individuals.

references & resources