San Francisco Chronicle Examines Medical Discount Companies
The San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday examined the growing number of medical discount companies -- including the emergence of two such companies in the Bay Area -- that market themselves to uninsured U.S. residents by offering discounts on health services for an enrollment fee and monthly charges. Consumer advocates have encouraged a "caveat emptor" approach to such companies because the plans are "difficult to decipher," generally exclude coverage for prescription drugs and hospitalization and are not subject to the same regulations as HMOs or other health plans, the Chronicle reports. However, industry representatives say that "some disreputable programs" are giving the industry "a bad name," according to the Chronicle. Discount companies such as AccessMedicalCard in the East Bay and Healthy Solutions in San Jose, both of which started in the last two months, say that they are different from other "misleading" programs because they have signed contracts with a network of physicians. Neal Gilbert, founder of AccessMedicalCard, said, "For the average person, we can provide an affordable option for them to get the care they need." However, he added that people should "protect themselves by getting separate catastrophic coverage" because membership in the plan does not include such coverage, the Chronicle reports.
Assembly member Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) has introduced a bill (AB 2354) that would ban medical discount card programs because they violate a state law that prohibits the referral of patients to any health care provider for profit. Laurence Kessenick, an attorney for AccessMedicalCard, said the company does not violate the law because it provides a list of doctors from which to choose, rather than referring patients to specific doctors. The Assembly Health Committee will consider the bill this week (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.