Don’t Get Duped When Buying a Discount Medical Card

October 16, 2008

With the cost of healthcare continuing to climb, medical discount cards offer consumers a way to save money on essential services such as doctor visits and prescription drugs. While these discount cards may seem like an attractive option, the Better Business Bureau advises consumers to do their research and ask the right questions before signing up, or they might leave themselves unprotected.

One such product, the Universal Health Card, has been advertised repeatedly in Metro New York. The promotion resembles a two-page news article, but has the phrase “Special Advertisement Feature” at the top. The Universal Health Card offers savings on doctor and hospital visits, prescription drugs, and dental and eye care. The advertisement clearly states that the product is not insurance, but its description contains terms generally associated with health insurance, such as “coverage,” “healthcare,” and “full access to quality medical care.” Although this language implies that the card provides adequate or superior healthcare coverage, consumers simply have the same access to medical care as they had before the card, only at discounted prices.

BBB staff found it impossible to determine the exact amount of these discounts without signing up for the card. Therefore, consumers will not know how much the card will save them before being billed for actual medical services. Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Metropolitan New York, says that “when it comes to a service as crucial as healthcare, consumers should evaluate products very carefully.”

An official at Napier Corporation in Canton, Ohio has confirmed that the Universal Heath Card and several other promotions printed in the same news article format all fall under its umbrella as a parent company. One of these promotions, Heat Surge, offers two “free miracle heaters” capable of providing dramatic energy savings. The BBB of Canton has received 184 complaints since October 2007, relating to slow delivery or non-receipt of orders, customer service issues, and misleading advertising claims. Says Rosenzweig, “It is important for consumers to understand that simply formatting an advertisement like a news story does not lend credibility to its claims. Protect yourself, and investigate a product fully before making any commitment.”

The BBB has received complaints against a number of discount medical cards from consumers who sign up and were extremely disappointed with the actual savings. Complainants say they were misled by advertisements and duped by sales pitches into thinking they would save hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, later discovering that only a limited number of physicians and pharmacies accepted the cards. Other consumers report purchasing a card from a telemarketer and never receiving the product.

The BBB advises that consumers obtain answers to the following questions in writing before signing up for any medical discount card program:

  • What is the annual or monthly cost of the plan?
  • What are the benefits? What healthcare products and services are covered? Which ones are not covered? Don’t be swayed by exaggerated savings claims, such as “Up to 40 percent” – this does not mean a guaranteed 40 percent savings.
  • Which local healthcare providers and facilities accept the discount card? If the sales person refuses to provide such a list, consumers should not do business with them.
  • How will the card work if I already have some form of insurance?
  • Who do I call if I have a problem with the discount plan? Can I cancel my membership at any time?

Before making a purchasing decision, consumers should first check the company out with BBB at