Looking for health insurance? Make sure that’s what you’re buying, or you could find yourself on the hook for big medical bills with no way to pay them. That’s because what sounds like affordable health insurance may be a medical discount plan instead. Medical discount plans can be a way for some people to save money on their health care costs, but discount plans aren’t health insurance.
The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know that although some medical discount plans provide legitimate discounts, others take people’s money and offer very little in return. The FTC and its state law enforcement partners also have found that dishonest marketers selling these plans have tried to make people think they’re selling health insurance, or have lied about what their plans really offer.
What Does it Matter? If you buy a health insurance plan, it generally covers a broad range of services, and pays you or your health care provider for a portion of your medical bills. If you buy a medical discount plan, you generally are paying for a list of providers and sellers who may be willing to offer “discounts” on some of their services, products or procedures. Medical discount plans don’t pay your health care costs.
“Discounts of up to 70%!” — but how often will you save that much? Savings with discount plans typically are a lot less. When you consider a discount plan’s monthly premiums and enrollment fees, there may be no “discount” at all. What’s more, if you have major health problems or an emergency, you will have to cover most, or all, of the bills if you don’t have health insurance. Medical discount plans aren’t a substitute for health insurance — nor are they the same as health insurance. Nevertheless, if you are interested in a discount plan, check whether the doctors you use participate. Call your providers, as well as others on the plan’s list, before you enroll or pay any fees. Some plan promoters may tell you that particular local doctors participate when they don’t, or they might send you outdated lists. Check out every claim, and get the details of any discount plan in writing before you sign up.