A new retail deal could help improve the reputation of programs that split access to preferred provider networks from health insurance.[@@]

Some regulators have questioned whether some health discount card sellers really have arranged for purchaser access to provider networks, and some providers have refused to offer negotiated network discounts to card holders.

Now Sam’s Club, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., has thrown its clout behind the card concept by agreeing to market a discount card program organized by HealthAllies, Glendale, Calif., a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn.

The program offers discounts on medical care as well as dental care and other ancillary products and services, Sam’s Club says.

Members of the Sam’s Club Plus group can join the program at no additional charge, and other Sam’s Club members can join the program for a “nominal fee,” Sam’s Club says.