The quality of healthcare in America is generally good. It is also very expensive. For most people, health insurance is the key to being able to pay for not only emergency care but routine check-ups as well.

If you do not have medical insurance, each visit to a doctor can cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars if additional services are needed. Failure to pay the bill can affect your credit report, which may reduce your ability to get loans in the future. However, you cannot be arrested or sent to jail for failing to pay medical or other bills.

Many people can get health insurance through their employers. For those who cannot, you should buy a plan from a well-known company. Read everything they provide carefully and be ready to ask questions. Make sure you know what services are covered: Are regular doctors' visits covered or is the plan only for hospitalization? Do you need a doctor's note (a referral) every time you have to see a specialty doctor? Does your plan cover buying prescription medicine, check ups with an eye doctor (optometrist), and prescription glasses?

Remember, if you don't have health insurance, each visit to the doctor or hospital can be expensive. However, if you earn less than a certain income, you might be eligible for medical assistance.

Medical Assistance (MA) is available to citizens, qualified immigrants and a broader range of immigrants considered Permanently Residing in the U.S. Under Color of Law, which means living permanently in the United States with the knowledge and permission of the immigration service. If you are here lawfully and permanently, and are not here temporarily, then you may be eligible for Medical Assistance if you meet all other income, resource, and health requirements.

Emergency Medical Assistance, which covers treatment of emergency medical conditions, is available regardless of immigration status. Emergency medical service is defined as conditions with acute symptoms of such severity, including severe pain, that without immediate medical treatment, may result in impairment of bodily functions, dysfunction of a body part or organ, or serious jeopardy to the patient's health. Emergency medical conditions includes labor and delivery and do not include procedures related to organ transplants.


Medical Assistance is free medical insurance for low-income parents, children, and adults with disabilities. When you apply for free medical assistance, the welfare office will ask you about your income and your health. The welfare office will also ask you about your immigration status. If you or your children fit into one of the categories below, you may qualify for free medical assistance. Note: In some cases, you may need to have been living in the U.S. for five years to be eligible.

  • U.S. Citizen
  • Lawful Permanent Resident ("Green card" holder)
  • Asylee or refugee
  • Paroled for one year or more
  • Granted withholding of removal
  • Certain battered spouses or children
  • Victims of trafficking
  • Granted Suspension of Deportation, Cancellation of Removal, or Deferred Action Status
  • Granted an Indefinite Stay of Deportation, Indefinite Voluntary Departure, or an Order of Supervision
  • An Immediate Relative Petition has been approved for you
  • Anyone else who is Permanently Residing Under Color of Law (your presence is known to the US government and you are allowed to remain in the US with the knowledge and permission of immigration authorities.)

If your children fit into one of the above categories, but you do not, you should still apply for medical assistance for your children.

Find out whether you qualify for medical assistance.


People with emergency medical conditions are eligible for treatment on a short-term basis through Emergency Medical Assistance. It does not matter what your immigration status is and you do not have to answer any question about immigration status if you apply for Emergency Medical Assistance. If you need assistance in applying for emergency medical assistance, call Community Legal Services at 215.227.6485 or the Pennsylvania Health Law Project at 1-800-274-3258.

If you need immediate medical attention, call 911. Be ready to describe how you feel and give the dispatcher your name and address. The dispatcher will send an ambulance to where you are. Remember, calling 911 is for emergencies only. There will be fees charged for the ambulance, and all the emergency room services as well. If you qualify for free Medical Assistance within three months after you have a medical emergency, and can show that you were eligible on the date of your emergency, your bills can be paid through the Medical Assistance program.

Unlike adults, children on Medicaid are entitled to all medically necessary services. Medical Assistance and the federally funded Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) have different provider networks, different benefits, and different eligibility requirements.

In general, parents with very low incomes qualify for Medical Assistance for their children. Families with slightly higher incomes qualify for CHIP. Families do not have a choice between MA or CHIP. Which program a child is eligible for depends on the family's gross income, family size, and age of a child. CHIP coverage is comprehensive and includes many preventive and diagnostic treatment services. There are no co-pays or deductibles.

You can learn more about CHIP and apply online.

Through the Caring Foundation, founded by Independence Blue Cross and Highmark Blue Shield, insurance plans are offered at minimal costs to the uninsured who do not qualify for medical assistance. More information is available on their site.

The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Program is available to pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as to children up to the age of 5, without regard to immigration status. WIC provides nutritional information, food and other social services to pregnant women, mothers and children under five who are to be considered at nutritional risk. For information on the WIC Center closest to you, call 1-800-WIC-WINS.


Go to your local welfare office and remember that you are entitled to a free interpreter if you can not speak or understand English. You can find your local welfare office by calling 1-800-692-7462.


Dental insurance is often not covered under regular health insurance. Read more information on dental insurance through medical assistance. In some cases, you may be able to get low-cost dental care through a clinic at a dental school.



According to the Department of Public Health for the City of Philadelphia, any resident of the City can access medical and dental care by calling one of the city's health care centers.