Health and prescription discount card programs claim to offer savings on a variety of services and drugs, usually as part of a membership for a monthly or annual fee.
Members receive a discount card that is accepted by a network of doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and other healthcare providers, who offer discounted rates on some services or products.
How They Work
How the cards work varies, but usually a member pays a discounted fee at the time of service. The discount offered is usually set by the provider, so the amount of savings can vary between providers, and even between services from the same provider. For example, a dentist may offer a 10% savings on a cleaning, and 15% on filling cavities. Another dentist may offer discounts only on cleaning and exams.
Before You Decide to Join
If you don’t have health insurance, try to get it. Many states offer insurance for those who are income-eligible and do not have access through an employer program.
Contact your city, town or county to see if there is a program near you. Many pharmacies and department stores also have their own discount programs.
Shop around. Prices for drugs, eyeglasses and many services can vary greatly in the same community. Compare costs of prescription drugs in your community.
Make sure the health care professionals and businesses you want to use will honor the card. Ask providers specifically about discounts they offer on the services or products you need. Find out how the card would work with your insurance.
Be sure to do the math. Add up all the costs of the discount plan, including membership and administrative fees, compare them to the total value of the discounts you are likely to receive. If you have insurance, the discount cards may not provide you with significant savings, unless you have a large deductible. Compare your savings with what you might save by taking advantage of alternatives.
Use Good Consumer Sense
If deciding to move forward, get the rules in writing. Be wary of sales pitches. Read the offer carefully, including any fine print or terms of agreement. Make sure all the details agree with the sales pitch.
Legitimate programs are up front about their cost and fees. Compare all the costs, including administrative charges and monthly or annual membership fees.
Check the company’s credentials. Before you sign up, find out what other people are saying about the company. Check with organizations like the Better Business Bureau to make sure the business is legitimate and reputable.
Ask about the card’s cancellation policies. Can you cancel at any time? Will your membership fee be refunded or prorated? Keep personal information private. Never give credit card or other personal information to strangers who contact you. These may be efforts to steal your money or your identity.
A Discount Card IS NOT Health Insurance
Remember that even while some discount programs advertise their “health coverage” or “affordable health care,” leading people to believe this is health insurance, it is not.
A discount card only reduces the amount you pay for some services. It does not pay your medical providers for covered services or pay any claims. The patient must pay the medical bills in order to receive the discount. It will not protect you from catastrophic medical costs associated with serious illness. Discount cards are not regulated and do not provide the consumer protections that insurance policies do, including confidentiality and mandatory coverage.
It is not advisable to replace your health insurance with a discount plan.
Source: NY State Office of the Attorney General: ag.ny.gov