No health insurance? No job? No problem

 

jdorschner@MiamiHerald.com

With the number of uninsured rising daily, a prominent South Miami radiologist is offering free mammogram screenings for women who have lost their jobs and health insurance.

"In the spirit of Barack Obama, we need to volunteer to help our country, " said Nilza Kallos, who operates the Breast Health Center and Diagnostic Ultrasound.

She challenged other physicians to make similar offers. "This could be like an invitation to other doctors to step up, " she said.

"I've heard surgeons say they don't have enough work. Well, how about helping those who need help?"

Kallos' offer comes as many financially pressed patients are curtailing care because they can't afford it. Some are insured and can't even afford the co-payments. Few doctors in South Florida are matching Kallos' free offer, but many in Broward and Miami-Dade are offering discounts to those who need them.

"The situation has reached the crisis stage, " says Bernd Wollschlaeger, a North Miami Beach physician and president of the Dade County Medical Association.

"I think we need to do something."

He says he and others are lowering their prices for their uninsured patients or giving them other help if they can't afford to pay. "If you donate some of your time, it comes back to help you, " because patients will remember helpful doctors when the economy improves.

Tony Prieto, president of the Broward County Medical Association, said in a statement: "Patients need to understand that doctors have bills to pay, staff salaries, and office expenses, but we are compassionate, reasonable people who want to help our patients.

"Patients who have lost their insurance should know that most doctors are willing to work with their patients, set up payment plans and give cash discounts so that the patients can still have access to care."

Those doctors include Barbara Martin, a Tamarac internist. "In my office we are not charging for any visits to patients who are in bad situations, " Martin wrote in an e-mail. "Also we are trying to get them medications that they can afford at Wal-Mart, and samples at the office."

"I would be happy to offer services discounted to anyone who has lost a job, " wrote Richard Rubenstein, a Tamarac dermatologist, in an e-mail.

Some doctors note they have always offered help to the uninsured.

Alan Routman, a Fort Lauderdale orthopedic surgeon, said: "I've been giving patients without insurance 30 percent discounts for cash or credit-card payments forever."

The burden of more people seeking cheaper healthcare often falls on publicly-funded health centers, who take all patients regardless of whether they have insurance. Jennifer Capezzuti, a primary care doctor at Broward Health, notes that she has been spending "excessive amounts of time evaluating patient's prescriptions and switching to generic alternatives."

At the Breast Center in South Miami, Kallos has long been known as a doctor who reached out to help the community.

In 2008, she was honored as a "Woman of Vision" by the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science.

"The worst thing, " Kallos said, "is when I hear a woman say, 'Oh, I lost my job and my insurance. I'll skip my mammogram this year.' Well, this could cost her a life, " if a cancer went untreated for a year.

Kallos said she might have to spread out the appointments over time if she is inundated by request for free services.

"If it's a regular mammogram, it can wait a little bit. But if she says she has a lump, we'll do that right away, " she said.

Watch a video about the free mammograms

Saving on healthcare

If you have no insurance, call doctors' offices and hospitals to ask if they offer discounts or free care, and under what circumstances. Some doctors -- even surgeons -- have given substantial discounts, particularly if the uninsured pays in cash or by credit card at time of service.

How big a discount should you ask for? A free service, healthcarebluebook.com, gives you what it says are the average costs negotiated by health insurers for specific services. A colonoscopy without biopsy, for example, is $476 for the doctor, $373 for the facility and $439 for anesthesia services. The website offers contracts with those prices you can print out and present to your doctor or hospital.

Harvard Medical School recommends focusing on primary care because it's cheaper and better coordinated; not using the emergency room unless you absolutely have to; ignoring the drug ads, going generic and questioning the need for expensive tests.

Best of all: Stay healthy with a good diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep.

Read more Healthcare Reform stories from the Miami Herald

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