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Free screening, clinic options put wellness within reach

Screening days and clinics can address cancer, eye care and more for any budget.

May 25, 2009|Francesca Lunzer Kritz

Many people are forgoing medical care because of costs these days. In a telephone survey of more than 1,200 adults, released last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 59% said they were going without medical care because of costs. Such care includes tests and screenings that can diagnose health problems before they become more serious. That percentage climbed from 53% in a similar survey conducted in February.

But free or low-cost tests and healthcare can be found. Community health centers are the obvious place to start, but national screening days can also offer unexpected opportunities. Organizations such as the American Diabetes Assn. offer these periodically as part of their outreach and awareness efforts.

Below are some resources to help you find low-cost or free screenings and care.

* Community health centers offer care on a sliding-scale basis, determined by income. You should be able to find one at www.findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

* National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides referrals to free and low-cost mammograms. Go to www.cdc.gov/nbccedp and click on "free or low cost mammogram and pap tests" to the right of the home page.

* Zero -- the Project to End Prostate Cancer, offers free prostate screenings throughout the U.S; the next date in the L.A. area will be in Costa Mesa in September. (Local hospitals may offer free or low-cost screenings before then.) Call (888) 245-9455 or go to www.zerocancer.org and click "free screenings" in the middle of the home page.

* The Calendar of National Health Observances, hosted by Healthfinder.gov and produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lists daily, weekly and monthly health observances. Go to www.healthfinder.gov/nho.

Not all groups offer screenings, but the calendar offers a guide to many health associations in the U.S. and when they're likely to offer such outreach. Contact the groups to find out about free and low-cost screenings.

For example, May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Screening and Detection Month. Find screening information at www.melanomamonday.org.

* EyeCare America, a project of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, provides free vision screenings and some free care for people who are 65 and older or are younger and at high risk for glaucoma. Risk factors for the condition include a family history of glaucoma, elevated pressure in the eye and being an African American. Call (800) 222-3937 for participating ophthalmologists in your area.

* The Los Angeles Urban League holds monthly breast cancer screenings for low-income women over 40 who qualify and, occasionally, other screenings as well. Check for dates at www.laul.org. Click on "Special Events" and then "Calendar of Events." Or call (323) 299-9660.

* Most hospitals hold free health fairs, including free cholesterol and blood pressure checks, at least once a year. For information, call the community service division of hospitals close to your home or office. The fairs are usually, but not always, held on weekends.

* Although drugstore clinics, such as CVS' Minute Clinic, generally charge for screenings, they occasionally hold free screenings. Check the website of pharmacies near you to see if they offer the clinics.

But double-check about costs before agreeing to a screening test; you don't want to find yourself with an unexpected bill.

And keep in mind that free screenings don't mean free treatment. Upcoming columns will look at financial help for dental, mental health and medical care as well as assistance with drug co-pays, even for people who have insurance.

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health@latimes.com

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