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HEALTH CARE: The $20 health care plan

Pop quiz. How much would a 10-day hospital stay cost for someone without health insurance? About $50,000. But for someone connected with Access to Healthcare Network, it could be as low as $3,000. The nonprofit program, launched in Reno in 2006, brings doctors, hospitals, labs and suppliers together to offer heavily discounted health services to northern Nevada's working poor. Access is gearing up to accept clients in the Las Vegas Valley in June - now with some help from Washington, D.C.

The innovative nonprofit is rolling out a five-year, $20 million program called the Nevada Health Access Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to provide health care services for middle-aged Nevadans.

Here's how it works: Applicants must be between 55-64 years old, uninsured and be legal residents of Nevada (which means they don't have to be American citizens). They must also meet strict income guidelines. Single-income households can earn no more than $21,660 a year; two-income households, no more than $29,140 a year. If applicants are accepted by both Access and Anthem Blue Cross, the Access grant covers premiums and deductibles. If Anthem denies applicants coverage - perhaps because of a pre-existing condition - clients then can sign on with Access's own extensive network of health care providers. Access pays each member $4,000 a year to pay for discounted medical services. The only cost to clients is $20 a month.

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[HEAR MORE: Why does Nevada rank last in quality of child health care? Learn why on "KNPR's State of Nevada."]

"We don't make money off this," says Access founder Sherri Rice. "That goes into a pool that allows us to serve more people. Either way, they're going to get health care. This is a great deal."

All recipients of the Nevada Health Access Project need to do is establish a primary care physician if they don't have one, and get current on diagnostic tests such as mammograms, colonoscopies and prostate screening. The project began six months ago and has so far filled 135 slots in Southern Nevada, but there's still room for 135 more. Rice lowered the original age limit of the program from 60 to 55 to capture a larger population of middle-aged Nevadans who may be uninsured because they lost their jobs or because they retired early. Twenty percent of AHN's members are 55 and over.

"What we're starting to see is a huge population (that is) just totally uninsured," says Rice. "They're the most uninsurable. This is our way of helping them until they can get into Medicare."

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