With the cost of healthcare continuing to climb and with consumers now feeling the budget pinch from all sides, some are looking into discount medical cards as a way to save money and ease cost burdens. Discount medical cards may seem like an attractive option for saving money, but Better Business Bureau is advising consumers to do their research and ask the right questions before signing up or they could get ripped off at a time when they can least afford it.
According to a recent survey by Hewitt Associates, employees are paying an average of $3,354 in premiums for family coverage, more than double the amount they paid in 1999. In fact, premiums have risen 3 1/2 times faster than wages over the same time period.
Discount medical cards save subscribers money by offering discounts, for a monthly fee, on healthcare needs such as physician visits, hospital stays and prescription medications. Perhaps the biggest points of confusion in the marketplace though are that discount medical cards are not a form of healthcare insurance and not subject to the same type of regulatory oversight as insurance, and the cards are not necessarily accepted by all physicians or pharmacies.
“Consumers are being squeezed from all sides right now and if they’re not careful, they can find themselves making bad decisions on discount medical card plans that end up costing a lot more than they save,” said Karen Nalven, BBB spokesperson. “Discount medical cards may seem like a great way to cut healthcare costs, but consumers really need to do their homework to ensure they don’t get stuck with a card or plan that doesn’t deliver on the promised savings.”
BBB has received complaints from consumers who signed up for discount medical card programs and were extremely disappointed with the lack of convenience and realized savings. Complainants say they were misled by advertisements and duped by sales pitches into thinking they would save hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, but later found out only a limited number of physicians and pharmacies accepted the cards, making their use difficult and inconvenient. Some consumers also report having been outright scammed by telemarketers who sold them on a program but only took their money and ran.
BBB advises that, before signing up for any discount medical care or card program, consumers should ask the following questions and obtain the answers in writing:
• What is the annual cost of the plan? (Don’t be swayed by exaggerated savings claims. “Up to 40 percent” does not mean a guaranteed 40 percent savings.)
• What are the benefits of the discount? What healthcare products and services are covered? Which ones are not covered?
• 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.
• Who do I call if I have a problem with the discount plan? Can I cancel my membership at any time? Is there a cancellation fee, and what is the refund policy?
Consumers should steer clear if they are pressured to “act now” because this is a “one-time offer” and be extremely wary of cold-call telemarketers. In order to avoid the threat of ID theft or being scammed, consumers should not do business with salespeople or discount card companies that insist on debit card or bank account information or require that payment be wired to the company.
Before making a purchasing decision, consumers should first check the company out with BBB at www.bbb.org.
For more straight talk and trustworthy advice on consumer healthcare issues, go to www.bbb.org.