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Discount Medical Cards: Innovation or Illusion?


Discount medical cards have come under increasing scrutiny by regulators and law enforcement officials as a result of mounting consumer-reported problems. For their study, the authors tested five cards available in the Washington, D.C., metro area; interviewed card company representatives, state attorneys general, insurance regulators, and insurance agents; and reviewed court and administrative actions. While some cards provide a measure of value, other cards were found to have serious drawbacks, including: high-pressure sales tactics; misleading or inaccurate promotion; exaggerated claims of savings; difficulty finding participating doctors; and providers who failed to give cardholders promised discounts. Some discount card companies are seeking to reform the market through a trade association and voluntary code of conduct. Still, legislative and regulatory interventions will be needed to protect consumers in an unregulated and growing market.

Publication Details

Publication Date: March 1, 2005

Discount Medical Cards: Innovation or Illusion?, Mila Kofman, J.D., Jennifer Libster, M.A., and Eliza Bangit, M.A., The Commonwealth Fund, March 2005


Executive Director, DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority
Researcher, Health Policy Institute
Researcher, Health Policy Institute