What are Discount Health Plans?
by Helene Zemel
As anyone who has had to pay for health insurance recently can tell you, the cost of providing health insurance for a family of 4 has risen tremendously over the past few decades. Many small and medium size industries can no longer continue to provide their workers with expensive health insurance benefits. In recent years, employees have had to pay a larger percentage of their health insurance costs, and many businesses have terminated their health insurance benefits, altogether. Other companies have cut down on the number of full time workers hired, so that they can save the cost of providing health insurance for their employees.
Should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of working for a company that does not provide health insurance benefits, most likely you will either have to purchase an expensive major medical policy on your own or do without. Because the high cost of major medical insurance can be out of reach for many, some families will choose to go without these important benefits entirely. The cost of health insurance can take a big bite out of a middle income family's budget. These families are truly caught between. They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and other government assistance programs, but do not earn enough to afford the high cost of health insurance. Even if an individual can afford the high price of health insurance, if a patient suffers from a chronic illness like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, high cholesterol, or heart disease, he or she can be denied coverage. People have even been turned down for excess weight and prescription drug use. It seems like the big insurance companies are looking for reasons not to insure people, so those individuals who need it most may find themselves without any benefits.
Fortunately, discount health plans offer families a way to save money on their health care costs. But what are discount health plans, and how can they be used to help families and businesses?
Discount health plans can be used in several different ways. For those individuals or families that lack dental or health insurance, discount medical plans can be used as stand alone health programs. These discount plans provide needed savings on all medical and dental services. Consumers can even save money on medical costs not normally covered by traditional insurance such as cosmetic surgery, cosmetic dentistry, dental implants, orthodontia, Lasik eye surgery, and even alternative medicine. Unlike traditional insurance there are no limits on visits or services, no waiting periods, no age limits, and ongoing conditions are accepted.
Businesses can save money by purchasing a high deductible health savings account or hospital only plan. A discount medical plan is purchased along with the high deductible plan. These supplemental benefits provide savings on routine health expenditures while the catastrophic insurance provides a safety net for lengthy hospitalizations and complex care. By combining a high deductible plan with a discount health plan, companies can save money on their health insurance benefits while providing their valued employees with needed financial security.
The discount dental plan is probably the most popular discount health program. Statistics show that seven out of ten Americans do not have a dental plan. Among the 30% that do have dental insurance, most are underinsured. Many dental plans do not provide treatment for ongoing conditions, have expenditure limits, waiting periods, and often don't provide for even necessary procedures such as orthodontic treatment. Cosmetic dentistry and implants are usually not covered.
Discount dental plans provide the consumer with an excellent choice for saving money on dental care. These affordable dental plans are reasonably priced alternatives to expensive dental insurance plans. Savings can range from 25% for specialist treatment to 80% for exams. Most major dental procedures such as fillings, root canals, dentures, crowns and bridges, and orthodontic treatment are available through plan dentists at a 50% to 60% discount--literally cutting a family's dental bill in half. In addition, patients with pre-existing conditions can qualify for these plans, and there are no limits on visits or services. Often these affordable dental plans offer value added services such as a prescription card, discounts on eyeglasses and contact lenses, and savings on chiropractic treatment.
Many discount health programs also offer a basic health plan which provides savings on medical examinations and physician visits. Ancillary services such as laboratory tests, imaging studies (MRIs, CAT scans, mammograms), physical therapy, diabetic supplies, hearing aids, and mental health services are also provided at significant discounts. A 24/7 nurse line and wellness programs may also be included in a good discount health program. Should hospitalization become necessary, the patient will be assigned an advocate who will negotiate the hospital bill and work out a payment plan based on the patient's ability to pay. Hospital bills have been drastically reduced through these advocacy programs. One company, AmeriPlan® USA, has even added a prescription advocacy program. This program takes advantage of patient assistance programs available through major pharmaceutical companies. Individuals with over $90 per month of prescription expenses, who meet income eligibility requirements, may be able to receive all or most of their medications for just the cost of a small monthly service fee.
Most discount health plan companies also offer a combined medical and dental discount plan. This program combines dental, vision, prescription, and chiropractic benefits with discounts on physician visits, lab tests, ancillary services, and hospital advocacy.
When looking for a discount health plan, here are some things to consider. Look for a company that is a member of both the Consumer Health Alliance and the National Association of Dental Plans. These two organizations set strict standards for discount dental and medical programs and are your assurance of the company's integrity and reputation. Also look for a plan that offers a good choice of dentists, doctors, and other healthcare providers in your area. The company should also provide an 800 customer service number, a schedule of provider fees and services, and informational booklets and websites.