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Are Medical Discount Deals Safe?

Botox injections and laser eye surgery for 50 percent off? Think twice before you bargain with your health

Dear Liz:

I've landed great bargains on deal-a-day websites. Now they're offering discounts on medical services such as Botox injections and laser eye surgery. Are they safe?

See also: 50 healthy foods that cost less than $1 per pound.

Most discounts from sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial aren't risky: A bad burrito or mediocre massage won't ruin your life. With medical services, though, the stakes are higher. Procedures such as dental implants, liposuction, skin-rejuvenation treatments and Lasik eye surgery — all of which have been offered at discounts of 50 percent or more on these sites — carry real dangers.

A recent Groupon deal, for example, provided discounts for a treatment called lipodissolve, which claims to dissolve fat with minimally invasive drug injections. The FDA, however, hasn't approved the drugs for fat removal and warns that the procedure is unproven. The agency has received reports of scarring, skin deformation and deep, painful knots under the skin at injection sites.

Of course, deal sites won't say whether a procedure is risky or help you determine which doctors are competent. Before pursuing any medical service, discuss your options with a board-certified specialist. (Check with your state's medical or dental board to confirm that the provider is licensed and to determine whether he or she has a disciplinary history.) Deals are enticing, but a botched procedure or risky treatment is no bargain.

Doctors who Deal

Rushing into a discounted medical procedure could be risky to your heath. — Josue Evilla

Nip/Tuck Tips

Medical services offered on deal-a-day sites are typically elective, so don't expect your insurer to help pay the cost. Many providers of cosmetic procedures offer financing plans to help patients pay for services. Ask your friends and your physician for referrals to dermatologists and cosmetic dentists they trust.

Safe at the Spa

So-called medical spas do cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels in addition to manicures and massages. State laws vary, but most say these services should be done by a physician or a registered nurse, nurse practitioner or physician assistant under the supervision of a physician. For any treatments more serious than a facial — such as Botox injections or a skin peel that requires sedation — make sure there's a doctor in the house.

Liz Weston, author of The 10 Commandments of Money, blogs at asklizweston.com

You may also like: 5 ways to save big with coupons.

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In this story from AARP's My Generation, we hear a successful story emphasizing the advantages of medical tourism, but also learn from experts about the need for thorough research before travelling abroad for medical treatment.

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