Many people lack health insurance. The reasons vary, but affordability is a big one. The affordability problem is often compounded by existing health issues which make the applicant a less desirable risk for the insurer.
As a result, many people are attracted to medical discount plans as an option to traditional health insurance. These plans can be helpful in providing access to health care at a more manageable cost.. However, it is vital to understand what they are, how they work, and at least some of their potential pitfalls.
Enrollment in a medical discount plan entitles you to access to providers of medical and other healthcare services. The providers will have agreed with the creator of the plan to furnish services to plan members at a cost that is less than their standard fees. The provider does this with the expectation that involvement with the discount plan will drive consumers to its practice. The member pays a monthly fee to the plan creator for the right to access the providers at the reduced fees.
The critical difference between traditional health insurance and a medical discount plan is this:
You, the patient, remain financially responsible to the provider for payment of the provider’s fees.
Stated otherwise, unlike traditional health insurance, the medical discount plan does not pay anything for you toward the cost of the healthcare services.
Another important factor is that a provider may decide not to participate in the plan after you bought your membership. Therefore, your trusted family physician, or worse, a specialist upon whom you depend, may one month participate in the plan, and the next month be gone. Also, the plan may boast larger discounts than the provider actually gives.
How can you protect yourself?
1. Satisy yourself that a medical discount plan is right for you. If you have “real” insurance, even if expensive, the true benefits of a health discount plan may be illusory. Saving some money on premiums may not be worth the risk of potentially enormous medical expenses. It generally does not make sense to cancel traditional health insurance for a medical discount plan.
2.. Before enrolling in a medical discount plan, check with the insurance regulatory authority in your state to ensure that the plan has been approved. While not all states regulate them, many do.
3. Make sure that your healthcare providers participate in the plan. Sometimes the plan creator lists a provider as a participant without authorization.
4. Make sure that the type of treatment that you need is included within the scope of the discount. This is best accomplished by contacting the healt care provider itself. If you are getting treatment at the time that you consider enrolling, also make sure that the discount will be honored for ongoing treatment.
5. Confirm that the discounts given are at least as much as the plan represents will be given. Although it is sometimes not possible to go “price shopping” for healthcare, especially in an emergency, it is always important to gather as much information as is possible concerning what you are getting into.