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They are not insurance, and many health care providers don't honor them.

Be wary with medical discount cards

The recent options in medical insurance aren't as complicated as the medical care and science they pay for, but it can seem that way as you try to decipher and unravel the intricacies of HSAs, HRAs and FSAs.

A new entry in the health pay arena is the "discount medical card" that some people mistakenly think is a form of health insurance. These cards are not, even though some companies create that impression when they market and sell them. They are just what the name implies: discount cards, such as the ones you use to get discounts at restaurants and hotels.

If you've ever used a discount card that gives you 10 percent or 20 percent off a car rental, hotel room or meal, you understand the basic principle behind a discount medical card. If you've ever presented a card to a hotel, restaurant or car rental agency and been told that they do not accept that card, or that "your discount" will be less, or that it does not apply in "your particular case," you also understand the basic problem with discount medical cards.

According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, many of the cards are "deceptive or fraudulent," and in order "to lure unwary customers," some card companies use advertising that "can make it seem like they're selling real insurance." Since they are not insurance companies, state agencies that oversee insurance companies have neither the power nor the authority to regulate them.

If you do not have any health insurance at all, a discount medical card can help. But before you buy one, make sure you know what you are getting and what it will cost you. You also need to ask for a list of providers in your area that accept the card. Then call the providers you are most likely to use and ask if they accept those cards and what sort of discount you can expect.

Just remember that you will be paying for medical service yourself. All you are getting -- you hope -- is a slightly lower bill.

Create a news alert for "health insurance options"
-- Posted: Nov. 27, 2006
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