As 2019 comes to a close, the U.S. economy has effectively rebounded from the Great Recession, and job opportunities are plentiful. Therefore, you may find it somewhat shocking that the number of Americans without health insurance is on the rise. Vox reports that the total amount of uninsured Americans climbed from 25.6 million in 2017 to 27.5 million the following year.

What’s more, 2018’s figures are the country’s first increase in the number of uninsured Americans since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2008. Commonly known as Obamacare, the ACA allowed millions of Americans who were previously unable to afford health insurance to acquire medical coverage.

Unfortunately, the high cost of insurance remains a significant barrier to many Americans: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of uninsured adults remain so due to the prohibitive cost of insurance. Although adults are more likely to lack insurance coverage than children, the problem primarily affects low-income families, and people of color are at a higher risk of being uninsured.

Options for Uninsured Americans

So what happens if you are uninsured and facing a worst-case scenario, such as a car accident or symptoms of a chronic illness? The good news is that, in the event of an emergency, uninsured Americans can still obtain medical care at a local hospital’s emergency room. Passed in 1986, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires that hospitals provide emergency healthcare treatment to anyone who may need it.

Although that care is available, however, you can’t rely on the ER for all of your healthcare needs. Neglecting routine care is not only unhealthy for your body, it’s unhealthy for your wallet. Even if you do seek care under the provisions of the EMTALA, you’re still legally responsible for any medical costs incurred.

And unpaid medical debt can lead to serious repercussions, from a bad credit score to bankruptcy. In fact, data indicates that 66.5% of personal bankruptcy claims are rooted in medical debt. Further, more than half a million families file for bankruptcy on an annual basis because they are drowning in medical bills.

Even if you’re uninsured, that doesn’t have to be your fate. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to access affordable medical care, no matter your income level or the state where you live. But when you’re uninsured, taking care of your body and your health become more important than ever.

Consider Routine and Preventative Care

When you’re uninsured, you likely only seek medical treatment as a last resort, or in emergency situations. Thus, it’s a good idea to cultivate healthy lifestyle habits to keep chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease. Healthy habits can include getting regular exercise, avoiding excess sugars in your diet, and reducing daily stressors.

As physiology, of course, varies significantly based on gender, it makes sense that men are at a higher risk for certain health conditions than women. Among the top 10 health risks for men include respiratory diseases, depressive disorders, and cardiovascular disease, which affects an estimated 1 in 3 American men. And you may not like to hear it, but men are more prone to experiencing alcohol-related hospitalizations and deaths than women, by a wide margin.

Excessive alcohol consumption, and/or regular consumption over a prolonged period of time, can increase your risk of cancer, and may even lead to impotence. So, instead of grabbing yet another cold one from the cooler at your weekend tailgate party, consider sipping a glass of water instead. You’ll benefit from its hydrating effects, as well as help protect some of your body’s most vulnerable components, such as your liver and teeth. Like carbonated sodas and sports drinks, the sugars in alcoholic beverages can deteriorate the enamel of your teeth, leading to cavities. And when you’re uninsured, you may not be able to fit dental care into your budget.

Types of Supplemental and Secondary Insurance

In regards to medical insurance, dental care is often considered a frivolous expense, especially among low-income and uninsured Americans. But that simple mistake can have a lasting, detrimental impact on your overall health. For instance, gum disease is linked to a number of serious health conditions, including stroke, heart attack, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Even if you do have health insurance, you may lack dental coverage and want to bridge that gap in your healthcare services. Among the uninsured and underinsured alike, it may be in your best interest to purchase a secondary or supplemental insurance plan that covers dental care. Per its moniker, a supplemental insurance plan acts as a kind of booster to your primary insurance coverage.

But supplemental insurance isn’t your only option when it comes to your oral health: If you live in a university or college town, it may be easy to obtain low-cost dental care at your local dental school. You can also find listings of clinics that offer dental, medical, and psychiatric care at a low cost or on a sliding scale via online healthcare databases. For instance, the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC) was established in 2001 and promotes quality healthcare for all Americans. The NAFC’s online database of 1,400 safety-net healthcare organizations and clinics across the U.S. is easy to navigate: Simply input your ZIP code or state.

Prioritize Your Physical and Mental Health

When you ignore or put off dental care, you put your overall health at risk. The same goes for ignoring general medical care, from mental health counseling to eye exams. Vision experts report that more than 10 million Americans have a vision problem of some kind, from myopia to blindness. Failing to address impaired vision can be detrimental to your work performance, driving ability, and your overall health.

Those who are uninsured are at a further disadvantage in regards to society itself, writes the Duquesne University School of Nursing. The uninsured are one of America’s most vulnerable population groups, alongside the homeless, racial and ethnic minorities, and the working poor. Those at-risk individuals, the majority of whom do not receive adequate healthcare, may also struggle to maintain independence, possess poor communication skills, and lack adequate transportation.

With those sobering facts in mind, it’s easy to see why prioritizing routine healthcare, no matter the cost, is vital to your future health and livelihood. Even if the cost of medical insurance remains prohibitive at this moment, you can take small steps towards improving your overall health. No matter the source or severity, untreated health conditions can be detrimental to your overall health, ironically leading to more expensive care in the form of emergency room visits. Thus, preventive and routine care are the cornerstones of a healthy life, especially when combined with proper exercise and a balanced diet.

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