Chelsey Tucker graduated with a Bachelor of History degree from Metropolitan State University in 2019. She now writes about insurance with her specialty being life insurance and has been quoted on Help Smart Phone and MEL Magazine.

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years. He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Mar 19, 2020

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Don't have health insurance and need surgery

If you don’t have health insurance and you need surgery you may be able to get some financial relief by scheduling your surgery with a hospital that works with uninsured patients. Your other option is to work out a payment plan with the doctor and hospital prior to scheduling the surgery.

An option you do not have is to buy health insurance after you have been diagnosed. Health insurance needs to be well in place, sometimes a minimum of three months, before it will pay for any major medical procedures.

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Some people wonder if health insurance is necessary for healthy people who don’t frequent doctors’ offices. The answer is a very simple yes.

While it is true that if you are healthy and you are paying for health insurance without ever needing it your premiums are not getting used, if you ever do need to use it you will want to have it.

Just getting a chest cold and needing to see a doctor is not extreme, but if you don’t have health insurance and you need surgery you could be facing some very scary decisions.

Elective surgery is not covered by any health insurance, so you will always pay for that out of pocket. Medically related surgery, however, is not usually optional so if you need to have surgery you are going to have to pay for it.

Catastrophe Health Insurance

Since insurance rates are expensive many people have difficulty affording it. In order to have health insurance with lower premiums, people frequently opt for catastrophe health insurance only. Other people who choose catastrophe health insurance are relatively healthy people who choose not to pay for basic health insurance and just take their chances.

Catastrophe health insurance is basically any health insurance plan that has a very high deductible and only really pays valuable benefits in the event you are hospitalized. As an example, you may have a health insurance plan with a $2,000 deductible and 30% co-pay after your deductible is met. A visit to the doctors’ office may or may not be included in your plan, and if it is it will probably only qualify after your $2,000 deductible gets paid.

So this plan is not conducive to minor illnesses and routine visits. However, if you are hospitalized and require surgery, chances are your bill can easily add up to over $6,000 for just one night in the hospital. Now your catastrophe health insurance becomes of value. After you pay your $2,000 deductible you are left with a $4,000 balance, of which 30% is your responsibility and the remaining 70% of it will be paid for by your health insurance plan.

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Uninsured Hospital Care

While the cost of health insurance rates seem high, the cost of uninsured hospital care is much higher. If you don’t have health insurance, or even catastrophe health insurance, and you need to have surgery you will need to weigh all of your options. Surgery is expensive and most people cannot afford to pay for it out of pocket.

Almost every state offers some type of assistance for low income level residents. Check with your state health department to see if you qualify for any of its programs. There is also usually a limited number of not for profit hospitals in every region that agree to provide hospital care for a certain number of patients who do not have health insurance and cannot afford their hospital care.

As soon as you know you need surgery, you need to locate a hospital that may be able to assist you. If the surgery is not an emergency, then you have time to go through the application process and try to find different hospitals who may work with you. If the surgery is an emergency perhaps your state department or doctor can recommend the best path for you to take. Either way, you need to work out your financial situation with the hospital prior to the surgery if that is at all possible.

Another option with many hospitals is to work out a payment plan prior to your surgical procedure. Your hospital bill cannot be totaled until after you are released, since the number of nights you need to stay may be unpredictable as well as the different attention that may be required during your visit.

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However, you can arrange a payment plan based on certain numbers or percentages prior to your surgery. The hospital should have a finance manager that can work out an acceptable installment plan for you. You may even qualify for a reduced rate based on your financial situation even with a payment plan in place.

Your 401k, if you have one, may be able to help you out in the face of a medical crisis. Unless your 401k is a self-employed fund that you can borrow against, you will not be able to withdraw your money prematurely without paying income tax (possibly 20 to 30%) and early withdrawal penalties (10%).

However, if you need the money to pay for surgery because you do not have insurance, you may qualify for a medical loan from your 401k. You would have to pay the money back with interest, but the interest would be placed in your own account so you could actually benefit from this transaction.

You may be able to finance your surgery with a credit card since most hospitals do accept all major credit cards. However, if you will need to make payments on the credit card charge then you should choose the card with the lowest interest rate. As a last, but possibly necessary option, you may need to consider financing your surgery.

There are several short term and long term loans that can provide you with the funds necessary to pay for your surgery. The interest rates may be high on these types of loans, however, which is why this really should be a last resort option.

Buying Health Insurance

It is crucial to obtain health insurance while you are healthy. Most health insurance plans disqualify pre-existing conditions from coverage, so if you are diagnosed with an illness requiring surgery before you buy health insurance your plan will not pay for it. This could also be the case if you are diagnosed shortly after purchasing your health insurance plan. If you are diagnosed with cancer within weeks of getting health insurance there is a good chance that your health insurance will not cover your surgery for it.

If you buy health insurance and shortly thereafter have an accident that results in your needing surgery, then your health insurance will most likely pay for it. That is because it was an accident and unrelated to any pre-existing condition. Before buying any health insurance plan, look over all conditions of the policy to see what is covered and what is not covered so that you know what your benefits really are.

Not having health insurance when you need surgery can be very daunting. Once you are told you need surgery it is too late to buy insurance for that procedure. You may be able to find assistance through your state department or a not for profit hospital, or you may qualify for reduced rates as an uninsured patient. The best thing to do is to be prepared in advance and always have health insurance so that it is there when you need it. Having health insurance also helps you take a proactive role in your health, which can help reduce some ailments and even some surgeries.

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