Discount Plans versus Health Insurance

 

 Discount Plans versus Health Insurance


Our nation is overly focused on health insurance. Unfortunately, it's also easy to figure out why.

Millions of Americans are struggling with medical bills and expensive procedures such as cancer treatment or reconstructive surgeries — and this should be alarming. To assume that people will always have health insurance seems like a na├»ve assumption, considering the rising cost of everything from groceries to tech. And yet at some point we will have to figure out how to pay for these expenses without relying on our employers and their premiums.

Luckily, there are options available for those who can't afford health insurance or don't have an employer offering healthcare plans -- discount plans.

It looks like the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) is getting a lot of negative attention, but the truth is that Americans are struggling to access affordable healthcare. Meanwhile, our health insurance plans continue to undergo major changes. This year alone, we've seen major changes in benefits and deductibles, elimination of coverage plans and removal of supplemental options. Even if you have a good health insurance plan today, you can expect there to be some significant changes coming down the pipeline. That's why it's important to understand what discounts plans are and whether they're right for you.

So what exactly are discount plans?

A discount plan provides an alternative way to receive health care at a substantially reduced cost. The plans do not come with all the bells and whistles of a traditional health insurance plan, but they have their own set of benefits. Plans can be purchased on the open market and generally require no underwriting. This is an attractive proposition for those that cannot get insurance due to pre-existing conditions or because they don't have a job or employer that offers insurance coverage. Even if you have a job that offers health insurance, you should ensure you get a discount plan as well. By combining both a health insurance plan and an individual discount plan, you may be able to save yourself even more money.

Discount plans are not for everyone and they may not meet the needs of those who have pre-existing conditions and need specific types of care. But they do allow for significant cost savings on healthcare services that many people don't consider — such as alternative treatments or wellness activities that your traditional physician might not offer. Buying a discount plan does take some time and research, but it's something you should consider if you want to pay less for your medical services — particularly if you are buying coverage on the open market without the help of an employer.

Although discount plans do get cheaper with age, you can still find affordable options even for a fairly young person. If you qualify, an individual discount plan can be purchased and then added on to your existing health insurance plan. For example, when I was 34 years old I had a discounted health insurance plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield — which included me paying part of the cost of my deductible and copays — all while having the option to add on my individual discount plan. By pooling together both plans into one combined expense, I saved more money than I would have had I purchased additional medical services separately from my regular health insurance plan.

So, what are the pros and cons of buying a discount plan?

One of the key benefits of discount plans is that they can be purchased from any health insurance company. Some group and individual discount plans come with networks, but most do not. The type of healthcare plan you have will determine the kind of discounts you can receive. For example, if you have an HMO plan in another state or country, you may be able to get discounts for services provided in that network. Those who shop in-network only will find that the overall cost does not change significantly between groups or health insurance companies. In many cases, some groups do offer lower premiums than others for comparable services, so shopping around is definitely recommended.

But while the cost may be lower, individuals who purchase discount plans should not expect to get the same level of care as with an employer health insurance plan. While you are likely to be approved for coverage, you may find that some providers will refuse to accept your discount card or membership. If you are not comfortable going outside of a specific network, then a discount plan might not be right for you.

Also, those looking to establish long-term care relationships with physicians or physicians' groups should probably avoid individual or group discount plans. Physicians and their staff are often unhappy to see patients coming in with discount cards or membership. This is because they don't collect enough revenue to subsidize the cost of care. With this in mind, you should keep in mind that physicians will most likely not be willing to help you develop a long-term relationship with them. This might mean it's hard for you to continue your care if you move away from the area or look for a change of healthcare providers.

However, those who are looking for urgent and emergency services will find that the financial rewards of buying an individual health insurance plan or group health discount plan far outweigh any other concerns.

So if you are looking to save money on healthcare services and don't want to purchase an additional health insurance plan, consider looking into individual or group discount plans. Those who don't have an employer offering insurance can buy individual plans — or those who do have employer-based coverage can get the plan through their health insurance provider and then add on their personal discount plan. In the end, you may be surprised at just how much you can save on your medical care if you take the time to compare all of your options.

The comments and views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HealthLeaders Media. News coverage of the topic provided in this article is intended for reference purposes only. It should not be construed as medical advice and is not intended to replace a physician's expertise.

Have Your Say: Does it make sense to buy a discount plan? Should you consider enrolling in a health insurance plan with discounts? Tell us your thoughts by posting comments below.

This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com and was written by Kimberly A. Crockett, CLD, CIC, Senior Managing Editor for HealthLeaders Media. Follow her on Twitter @KapCrockett, or reach out to her via email at kapcrockett@healthleadersmedia .com.

Conclusion

Discount programs can save you money on medical services and in some cases even help you save money on your health insurance. But these programs are not for everyone and those who are looking for a little more than just a discount should probably look elsewhere. One option to consider is an employer health plan, which will often offer additional conveniences such as wellness programs, prescription drug coverage, and even the ability to visit the same physician.

If you decide to get an individual or group discount program, make sure that it includes a network in case of urgent or emergency care and check it out thoroughly before enrolling. You can always add on a discount plan at a later time if you decide that your current plan just doesn't cut it.

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