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Educational Consumer Tips

Discount Health Plans

Author: Better Business Bureau
Category: Health

Usually consumers are asked to subscribe to discount health plans for a monthly fee. In return, they receive a card which claims to save them money by offering discounts on physician visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, dental work, eye care or other medical treatment.

Discount health plans can be confusing because they are not insurance and the holder must pay the medical bill themselves. The cards simply offer lower prices to members who use participating service providers that accept the discounts.

Since a discount health plan is not insurance, there is less consumer protection because they are not regulated by state insurance departments, and salespersons may not need a license or background in healthcare.

The BBB® advises those considering purchasing any healthcare coverage to investigate the company and its claims before making a buying decision or cancelling a current plan. If you give up current health insurance coverage, mistakenly believing you found a better insurance plan, you could find yourself with no coverage at all. In some cases, you must already be enrolled in a health insurance plan in order to transfer to another insurance plan.

The questions to ask and things to research before signing up for a health discount plan:
- Are there enough member providers in your area to take care of your needs?
- Are the promised discounts actually available and, if so, have they been exaggerated? Call one of the listed providers and ask questions. Some health discount providers have sold purchasers little more than a mailing list of medical providers and the providers do not even know they are on the list.
- Don't assume you are getting access to a large network of providers because the discount card displays a network's name and logo. Find out who the providers really are.
- Watch out for hidden fees that might be connected with the plan.
- Ask specific questions and demand specific answers. Be wary if company personnel or sales people seem evasive, ill-informed or reluctant to provide detailed information before you make a decision.
- Find out if your membership fee is refundable if you cancel, if you can cancel at any time and what the procedure would be.
- Above all, do not give out your credit card or checking account information to a stranger selling a health discount card over the phone or the Internet. Fees for the card, or other unauthorized fees could be charged to your credit card or bank account, even if you don't sign up.