Jan 30, 2010

Medical Discount Programs: Caveat Emptor

Who isn't trying to save a few bucks these days? Those ads you see on tv for discount medical and dental plans are tempting, but remember that they are just that: discount plans, not health insurance. Proceed cautiously if you're considering buying into one.

As the chair of the Florida Bar Elder Law Section's Committee on Financial Products, my antennae always go up when a financial product is pitched to seniors. My motto is caveat emptor, and it should be yours, too! Here are some points to consider before you buy into any discount plan:

Before you pay any money, ask the company for a list of providers who participate in the plan. Then call the providers and find out more about the services and discounts they offer. If the plan doesn't provide a list of provideers willingly and promptly, consider taking your business elsewhere!

Read the fine print, paying special attention to the refund policy and requirements to qualify for the discounted rate. If a plan doesn't provide information and answers before you buy, they may not be responsive once they've got your money.

If your customary medical providers don't participate in the program, check out other providers in your area to see if they do, and what kinds of discounts they provide.

Since you may be responsible for an up-front amount as well as monthly fees and costs, try to figure out if any discounts will offset the costs. In other words, is it likely that you'll actually save money?

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