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For Immediate Release
October 22, 2004
Media Contact:
Kevin Enright 410-576-6357

CONSUMER ALERT: HEALTH DISCOUNT CARDS PROMISE BIG SAVINGS, DON’T ALWAYS DELIVER

In the latest issue of his Consumer’s Edge newsletter, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. warns consumers to check out the promises made by health discount card programs. Advertisements for the cards suggest that people who enroll will realize large savings on medical and dental bills, lab tests and prescriptions. However, Curran says that the savings don’t always materialize.

Health discount cards can sound like a solution to people who don’t have health insurance or who have inadequate insurance. After paying a membership fee, a consumer is supposed to be able to present the card to participating healthcare providers and receive a discount on fees. However, Curran says that many consumers complain that:

• They have difficulty finding providers who accept the card, even though the program claimed it had an extensive network of thousands of providers. In addition, no Maryland hospitals accept discount cards.

• The savings are not as much as was advertised. When consumers can find a provider who accepts the card, the discount offered may only be 10 to 20 percent, not the “up to 60 percent!” or “up to 80 percent!” trumpeted in the ad.

• The consumer mistakenly believed the card was an insurance plan. Some consumers have been confused by advertisements using words such as “health coverage” and pictures of cards that look similar to insurance cards.

“ If you’re considering enrolling in a health discount card program, check it out carefully first,” Curran said. “Don’t be pressured. Ask for materials that you can look over, and most importantly, verify which providers will actually accept the card.”

Curran said that consumers should ask their doctor, dentist and pharmacy whether they accept the card and what discounts would be offered. If they don’t accept the card, the consumers should ask the discount card company for a list of providers in the area that do, and then call those providers to confirm. Also, the consumer should ask not just what the discount would be, but what the cost of a doctor visit or dental check-up would be. Merely being told that the discount would be “30 percent off” is not helpful without knowing what the full charge would be.

The Consumer’s Edge newsletter is on the Attorney General’s website at www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/edge116.htm

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