You’ve most likely seen an internet, print, or television ad for an affordable health care plan that doesn’t have deductibles or co-pays, has thousands of PPO network providers, doesn’t discriminate against pre-existing conditions, has discounts on medical services of up to 60%, and so on. It may appear that such ads are for health insurance, but most of them are actually offering a medical discount plan, program, or card.
Medical discount ads are often aimed directly at individuals looking to cut the cost of health care, and while these medical discount plans can help some consumers save some money on their health care costs, medical discount plans shouldn’t be confused with health insurance. Health care plans typically cover a broad spectrum of medical services, products, and procedures with a payment either directly to the provider or insured individual. Unlike health care plans, medical discount plans don’t pay any portion of an individual’s health care costs. A medical discount plan will charge you fees to become a plan member. You’ll then be provided with a list of medical product and service providers offering you, as a plan member, a discount on certain services, procedures, and products.
Many of these medical discount plans assert that members can obtain huge discounts from hundreds of service and product providers related to everything form hospital admissions and prescription drugs to dental and doctor visits. Some of these plans indeed provide the array and degree of discounts being promised to members. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has found many plans don’t make good on what they’ve promised consumers and are actually providing very little in return for the fees being charged. The FTC is the nation’s consumer protection agency, working to prevent deceptive, fraudulent, and unfair marketplace practices and arm consumers with the information they need to identify, evade, and stop entities with such practices.
The most important thing, regardless if you’re purchasing a medical discount plan or a traditional health insurance plan, is that you know what you’re getting. You can contact your state insurance commissioner to determine if an insurance company is registered to sell insurance in your state. If a company isn’t registered to sell you health insurance, then you might consider an alternative insurer. Likewise, you should do some investigating and questioning before buying a medical discount plan, including:
- Check out the medical discount plan’s website. Look for a phone number or local office location so that you can obtain more information from a real life representative.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau, local consumer protection agencies, or the attorney general’s office to determine if the entity offering the discount medical plan has any complaints against them or ethics violations on record.
- Ask for a full listing of the plan’s providers. Call several of the providers on the list to ask what discounts are offered for what services. If a medical discount plan procrastinates or refuses to provide you with a list of the providers until after you’ve made a purchase, you should strongly consider finding a different plan.
- Check to see if your usual dental and medical providers are on the plan’s list of providers. If not, and you can live with changing from your usual providers, then you may want to ask if the plan will offer you a get acquainted, initial consultation visit with a participating practitioner before you commit to membership. Most legitimate plans will not have a problem providing such a visit to help you get acquainted with their providers.
- Pay close attention to the plan’s fine print and refund policy. Ask questions if you don’t understand any element of the contract.
- Some of these medical discount plans can entail an upfront, lump-sum payment; monthly fees; and/or additional per-fees. So run the numbers to determine if the plan’s total cost is more than you could ever save from the discounts being offered.
- Keep in mind that if a plan’s representatives can’t or won’t answer any and all questions before you make a purchase, then they certainly aren’t likely to do so once they have your money in their hands.
- You may be able to get a discount without paying for membership in a medical discount plan if your usual providers aren’t on the plan’s provider list. After all, your usual provider doesn’t want to lose your business just because he/she isn’t on a plan’s provider list. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask your providers before paying for a plan.