Health discount plans are programs in which consumers can get a marked-down rate on products and services that aren't covered by most traditional insurance plans.
Typically such programs, which are available on the open market, cost a monthly fee such as $8 to $25 per month, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
However, many health insurance plans include discount programs as part of their traditional coverage.
For example, if you have a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas plan, you would see that you automatically have free access to the Blue365 discount program.
Your insurer can tell you if your coverage includes free access to a plan.
What health services are discounted?
Among the most popularly discounted services are alternative and holistic healing therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage therapy. Discounts are also frequently found on such products and services as:
- Gym memberships.
- Weight-loss programs.
- Yoga classes.
- Vitamins and herbs.
- Health and fitness videos.
While few consumers would turn down savings, all health discount programs don't offer the same level of value.
Some programs can save you money, but others don’t live up to their hype, says James Quiggle, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. In fact, some programs masquerading as discount plans are nothing more than scams, experts say.
Want to make sure a discount plan is on the up and up? Here are five ways you can determine whether your health discount plan is a good money-saver -- or a scam.
1. The costs don't offset potential savings.
Obviously the best discount programs for your wallet are the ones that you don't have to pay for.
Some insurance providers offer discount programs to members for free as a value-added service.
"Discounts are available to most Aetna members as part of their benefits plan at no extra cost," says Matthew Clyburn, a spokesman for Aetna. "Members can use the discounts as often as they wish, without the need for claim forms or referrals."
Other plans may charge an enrollment fee for the service.
In some cases, employers will pick up the tab for a health discount program so their employees can enjoy the benefit for free.
If your health insurance plan doesn’t include free access to a discount program, make sure the savings outweigh the enrollment fee, the Federal Trade Commission advises.
For example, if the discount program costs $100 per year, make sure you’ll get more than $100 in discounts.
2. The discount plan makes it clear that it isn't insurance.
It’s important to understand the programs themselves aren’t insurance.
In fact, reputable programs will state explicitly in their marketing materials that they aren't insurance.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you're actually covered for the services offered through the discount program. For example, while you might be eligible for a discount on a yoga class or massage session, you'll be expected to pay for the service at the time it's offered -- just at a discounted rate.
3. The savings aren't exaggerated.
If the promised savings sound too good to be true, they probably are. Some health discount programs exaggerate their savings potential or include hidden costs.
For example, you may be able to get a 20 percent discount on a yoga classes, but you may have to shell out the money for a minimum number of classes first.
Others might refuse to honor the discount if you don't follow certain procedures such as giving advance notice before using the services, Quiggle says.
While it's not uncommon to find discounts in the 10 to 20 percent range, the FTC warns consumers to be wary of discount programs that promise "up to" a certain percentage of savings -- such as "up to 70 percent" -- since the likelihood of receiving such a large discount on many of the services is low.
4. There’s no hard sell.
Unfortunately, when it comes to health discount programs, you should be on the lookout for scams. Identity thieves have been known to call consumers under the guise of selling medical discount plans when they're really seeking to collect personal information, the FTC warns.
While there are no federal guidelines discount plan providers must follow, 25 states have statutes governing the sale of the programs. For example, in Colorado, consumers must have 30 days to cancel the plan, and in Kansas, all plans must disclose that they’re not insurance.
If someone calls you attempting to sell you a medical discount plan -- even if they claim to be calling from your insurance provider -- ask for something in writing.
But don’t stop there. To make sure the claim is legitimate, call your state insurance department or check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the company is on the up and up.
5. The provider list is accurate and up-to-date.
Before you run out to join a discounted gym, call to make sure they will in fact offer the reduced rate on all of their fitness classes. Some providers may offer discounts on only certain offerings, leaving you to pay full price for the rest.
For example, you may get a discount on basic gym membership but have to pay full price to access a trainer or other fitness club amenities.
If the plan comes with a list of service providers, double-check to make sure those providers are actually on board as some lists have been outdated or incorrect, Quiggle says.