But even in an emergency situation -- like a heart attack -- people without health coverage may think of their wallet before their own well-being.
Loretta Arnold is 52 years old. She has a significant family history of heart disease. Her mother died young and her father still battles heart problems. But when she started having chest pains recently, she waited 36 hours before making the decision to get help.
"You say to yourself, 'Well let's see if it goes away, let's see if the pain goes away, or let's see if it eases up a little bit,'" Arnold said.
A doctor's visit, plus tests and medications could cost thousands of dollars -- and Arnold does not have health insurance.
"I have to be worried when something happens, and yet, I also have to consider my financial status," she said.
She's not alone. A new study of heart attack patients finds that those without insurance or with very limited coverage are more likely to delay going to the emergency room when they're having heart attack symptoms.
That's a huge mistake, according to Arnold's cardiologist, Dr. James Fang of University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
"If you can get to somebody within what they call the golden hour, the very first hour that this is occurring, the chances of their long-term survival is very close to patients who have never had a heart attack," Fang said.
That golden hour is often wasted with financial worry. The question is not "Is my heart OK?" But rather, "How in the world am I going to pay for all of this?"
"You prioritize to keeping a roof over your head and food on the table. Insurance premiums, they just don't make the top of the list, unfortunately," Arnold said.
For her, health insurance is simply unaffordable right now, and that's a financial condition she hopes will not cost her even more in the long run.
Researchers looked at data on 3,721 heart attack patients at 24 U.S. hospitals. Among those with insurance reporting financial concerns, more than 82 percent reported having avoided medical care.