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How to get free health insurance (even if you do not qualify for Medicaid)

Millions of uninsured Americans may be eligible for a new program that provides free or very inexpensive health insurance. This is not a federal or a state program but rather a privately funded program devised by hospitals to boost their share of revenues under the new health care reform laws.

A growing number of hospitals across the country have joined programs designed to pay health insurance premiums of lower income patients that do not have health insurance. Because federal regulations prohibit the hospitals from making the premium payments to insurance companies directly, the money is funneled through donations to a third party charity. The charity then enrolls the patient in insurance and pays the patient's portion of the insurance premium. This practice is allowed under federal regulations published in March 2014.

One example is HealthConnect, a program for Wisconsin residents that is funded by the University of Wisconsin-Madison health system. This program does require most patients to pay a small portion of the insurance cost. Other programs described by Kaiser Health News pay 100% of the patient's insurance cost.

The downside of this approach to insurance is that the individual must wait until medical care is required through a hospital in order to qualify for the program.

Additionally, not all hospitals participate in this program so it might be necessary for a patient to shop for a hospital that participates in this program.

If patients can afford to pay for any additional insurance, they can purchase supplemental insurance to help cover the deductible and out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance. If not, then that portion of the cost is likely to be written off as uncollectable by the hospital. In the past, this would damage the consumer credit reputation of the patient. This month the nation's major credit reporting agencies announced their plans to revise the scoring formula so that unpaid medical debt would not be so damaging to consumer credit scores.