Government Health Insurance for Low-Income People

Many low-income people, even those with full-time jobs, rely on government health insurance to pay their medical bills. For many years now, the cost of health care has gone up faster than the cost of inflation. Fewer and fewer employers offer health insurance to their employees, and those that do are asking employees to pay a larger portion of the cost. Given this situation, it is not surprising that many low-income people turn to the government for help paying for health care.

The largest government health insurance plan for low-income people is Medicaid. Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal government and the states, and it is managed by the states. The program is intended to help low-income people pay their medical bills. In determining your eligibility, the state will consider such things as your income, your assets, and the size of your family. Not all low-income people qualify. The program focuses primarily on children, pregnant women, parents of eligible children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Each state has its own rules to determine eligibility.

Each state also determines how the program operates. Some states require some people to make a small copayment whenever they receive treatment. Then Medicaid pays doctors and other providers the balance of the cost. States have limits on how much they will pay for specific procedures. For this reason, some providers do not accept patients covered by Medicaid.

Most states have set up managed care programs for Medicaid recipients. These programs are private health care plans that receive a fixed premium from the state for each person receiving Medicaid assistance. The plan is then responsible for meeting all the health care needs of these individuals. Most children covered by Medicaid are enrolled in some type of managed care program. These programs typically include coverage for preventive care, such as immunizations and health checkups.

With our aging population, the fastest growing segment of Medicaid coverage is for nursing home care. Many senior citizens who have limited incomes and few assets qualify for assistance in paying for nursing homes.

It typically takes at least three months for a Medicaid application to be approved. So if you think you might be eligible, don't wait to apply. In most states, you can apply for Medicaid and other government insurance plans at your county health department or social services office.

Medicaid is not the only type of government-sponsored health insurance. Millions of children in low-income families are covered by a program called SCHIP, which stands for State Children's Health Insurance Plan. SCHIP serves families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but who do not have access to affordable private insurance. Like Medicaid, it is a joint federal/state program that is managed by the states.

Individual states also have a variety of health insurance plans for specific groups. For example, many states have special programs for pregnant women, persons with HIV/AIDS, and persons with disabilities. These programs function together with Medicaid to provide appropriate insurance for people who need help paying for health care.

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