NU Online News Service, March 14, 2005, 3:20 p.m. EST

Medical discount programs have problems but sometimes work well.[@@]

Health policy researchers at Georgetown University published data supporting that conclusion in a study that was critical of many medical discount card providers.

The researchers tested 5 of the 9 cards available in their market and found that many card provider directories were out of date. Even when the researchers could reach providers, many providers refused to take the discount cards or discuss the discounts they might offer card holders.

But the researchers noted that 7 of the 7 providers affiliated with 1 card were aware of that card program. That card program advertised that provided discounts of up to 40%, and the 7 providers called said they would offer discounts ranging from 4% to 34%, the researchers write in a report on their study.

But the researchers also write that many sellers of medical discount card programs used high-pressure sales tactics and misrepresented the card programs.

Although 7 of the 7 providers called for 1 card program were willing to take that card, only 9 of the 37 providers called for the 4 other card programs were willing to honor those 4 cards, the researchers write.

The researchers acknowledge that the Consumer Health Alliance, Dallas, a discount card trade group, has proposed card program standards.

The researchers themselves suggest that state insurance departments should license discount card operations and that the card companies should have contracts directly with providers, not just with provider networks.