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Protect Yourself From Useless Medical Discount Plans

Consumers often find that after paying the membership fee, they receive little or nothing in return.

For people who don't have health insurance, a medical discount plan can seem like a way to access care at an affordable price.

But unlike health insurance, medical discount plans don't pay for your health care costs. Instead, after you pay a fee to join the plan, you receive a list of providers who will give a discount for some of their services. Consumers often find that after paying the membership fee, they receive little or nothing in return.

What you should do

• Before paying any money to join a medical discount plan, review the plan's list of providers. If your usual doctor, dentist or pharmacist isn't on the list, and you receive care from them, you'll get no benefit from the money you paid to join the plan.

• Call the plan's providers to find out what discounts may be available. If the plan won't give you a list of providers, shop elsewhere.

• Read the fine print. Be sure you will be able to get a refund if you aren't satisfied.

• Compare all the costs you have to pay — the initial fee, monthly fees and co-payments — with any promised savings. You don't want to be spending more money in order to receive the discount than you are saving from the discount.

• Before purchasing any medical discount plan or health insurance, check with your state insurance commissioner. A company that offers any type of medical coverage must be registered in your state. If the company is not registered, shop elsewhere.

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