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    Bargain Health Care?


    The participating, uninsured members usually are self-employed individuals or people that prefer to pay for health care services as needed, Eaton says.

    Still, a number of people may stand to benefit. A growing number of U.S. employees already are paying for a larger portion of their health care costs under managed care, according to a recent Center for National Policy survey. The survey, funded by the nonprofit research organization and conducted by Harvard University researchers, found that less than 30% of Americans had full insurance coverage in 1998 compared to more than 45% in 1983.

    In the future, discount clubs also will become a mainstream for employer-based health plans, predicts Steve Scheidt, director of marketing at MedAdvantage, a Detroit-based discount club whose web page went up almost 2 years ago. "That is the target," he tells WebMD, while noting that discount clubs can help employers develop fuller health care packages for their employees at almost no cost to themselves.

    The downside for consumers is that these discount clubs do not always offer reliable information about the health care providers participating in their programs, reviewers say. The information varies from lists including the doctors' board certifications to ratings compiled by third party organizations, whose resources and motivations remain undisclosed, they say.

    "We are not in the business of recommending doctors," Eaton admits. "What we are trying to do is bring people together with health care providers that meet their needs."

    One recourse for consumers is that discount clubs usually deal with network providers who are required to undergo a certification process, Scheidt says. However, "our business is to negotiate discounts, not recommend doctors."

    When all is said and done, these companies at least deliver on that promise. On average, consumers can enjoy discounts of anywhere between 10-50% on prescription drugs and other health care services based on the prices listed at various clubs.

    "It's a great deal," Eaton assures WebMD. "Everybody gets what they want without the hassles of managed care."

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