You don't have health insurance because you're self-employed or you work for a small business that doesn't offer medical coverage. You could buy private health insurance, but according to The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, three out of five adults who considered buying private coverage in 2005 had difficulty finding a plan they could afford. If you can't afford the premiums to purchase your own insurance, there is another option that can help you reduce the burden of medical bills: medical discount plans. Read to find out whether this coverage option might work for you. (For background reading on getting your own plan, see Buying Private Health Insurance.)
Medical Discount Plans
First and foremost, a medical discount plan is not insurance. You pay a monthly or annual fee for a medical discount plan so that you can get access to providers that agree to give discounts to members of the program. Unlike insurance, at no point does the discount provider pay part of your medical bill.
The discounts - depending on your plan - are for prescriptions, health clubs, dental visits, eye glasses, vision expenses and/or diabetic supplies. (For related reading, see 20 Ways To Save On Medical Bills.)
The attraction to medical discount plans is the price. In some cases, subscribers pay as little as $10 per month. However, to truly decide if the cost is worth it, you need to look at how much of a discount you are getting. Some plans will give you a 10% discount, while others offer a 60% discount. You should compare both the price of the medical discount plan and discounts on at least three discount plans. However, keep in mind that if you are unable to afford you medical bills, even at a discount, these plans may not be helpful for you. (Before you are able to see if you can afford a plan, you need to have a budget. Read Get your Budget In Fighting Shape to learn how to do just that.)
Coverage and Provider Network
Just like with health insurance, each discount program differs in the level of coverage it provides and networks of medical professionals you can use. Coverage in regards to medical discount plans applies to any service, prescription or equipment you get a discount on through your medical discount plan. (Picking the right coverage and network is very important, as you do not want to be paying for something that you can't or won't use. Read How To Choose A Healthcare Plan to learn more.)
For instance, you may choose a plan just for dental coverage or one that includes emergency hospital stays and primary care visits. Which coverages are best depends on what you need. You may only need coverage for dental visits because you have health insurance for other medical needs through a spouse, your employer, or because you purchased health insurance on your own.
Compare coverage with your needs in mind. You can do this by getting a copy of the coverage list of any company you are considering buying a medical discount program from.
A provider network refers to the medical professionals and businesses that are signed up with the medical discount plan you choose. The location of the providers in a medical discount plan's network is as important as the coverage offered - you wouldn't get much value out of having to visit a doctor who's 50 miles away. Therefore, when you compare provider networks, look for providers' proximity to where you live.
Even though you are paying a small fee for your medical discount plan, you want to check on the reputation of the company you are considering. Start by calling your state's insurance commission. You can also look up information about companies via the Better Business Bureau Online or by visiting the local Better Business Bureau in your area. The Better Business Bureau will tell you how long the company has been in business and whether there are complaints from consumers. (For more information about using Better Business Bureau resources, read The Better Business Bureau's Tool Belt for Saving Cash.)
Pros and Cons of Medical Discount Plans
- Medical care is expensive and medical discount plans are an inexpensive way to reduce medical expenses.
- If you have health insurance but not dental insurance, a good-quality discount plan can pay for itself in your biannual dental cleanings. Coverage for fillings and root canals are a bonus.
- While medical discount plans are cheaper, don't forget to check out prices on health insurance as well. If you can afford it, a health insurance plan can be $100 or more per month. However, if your health insurance will bring a thousand dollar hospital bill down to a hundred, the extra money spent versus medical discount plans is worth it.
- If you can't afford the doctor's bill even with the discount, the discount plan isn't useful.
- Depending on your income, you may also be eligible for state-run healthcare programs. Call your local congressional representative for information.
Medical discounts plans are a helpful tool when you don't have insurance. Compare coverages, networks and prices among at least three plans. Research multiple companies before signing on the dotted line.