Almost every day, it seems, we see stories in the news about hundreds of people losing their jobs as employers resort to layoffs, companies downsize, and businesses go out of business.

  "Losing your job is scary enough all by itself," says Adam Goldstein, M.D., a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. "But for some people, such as those who have chronic health problems that require both medications and regular visits to the doctor, that fear becomes magnified by the loss of health insurance that often goes hand in hand with the loss of one's job." 

More than 45 million Americans had no health insurance in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fortunately, if you find yourself in this situation, there are several things you can do to keep getting the healthcare services you need, Goldstein says. He offers the following tips:

 °  Check to see if you qualify to continue your current health insurance under COBRA. COBRA is a federal law that gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue group health benefits for limited periods of time after job loss. Qualified individuals still must pay the entire premium for coverage to continue. For more information, visit www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq_consumer_cobra.HTML.

 °   Call your primary-care doctor and explain your situation. Most physicians will work with you to ensure that you still have access to care while you work out a way to pay your medical bills. They may have a sliding-scale policy to allow those with fewer financial resources to pay less at each visit.

 °    Seek care at a community health center or free medical clinic whose mission is to serve patients, regardless of their ability to pay. Federally supported community health centers also provide a range of primary-care services on a sliding-scale fee basis. Also, take advantage of the free blood-pressure machines available at many pharmacies.

 °  Try to get your medications at reduced or no cost. Prices in pharmacies may vary widely, with the most expensive charging two to five times more than the least expensive. Shop around. Many pharmaceutical companies offer medications for free for a limited time to patients with no income and few financial assets. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance offers access to more than 450 public and private patient-assistance programs including more than 180 programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. For more information, visit www.pparx.org/Intro.php.

  Also, remember to focus on the things you can do on your own to stay healthy such as exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco, eating fresh vegetables and fruits, and avoiding excessive salt and high-fat foods.

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