Health care consumers get discounts by flashing card

Coupons come to the medical profession

Everyone has seen children going door to door selling discount cards and coupon books to raise money for sports teams and clubs. Many people buy these products because they like to save money. Now, the discount craze has spread to medicine.

HealthStar, a Chicago-based managed care company, has launched a discount card program that offers savings of up to 20% on doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and outpatient procedures. There is also an optional feature that gives discounts on prescriptions, eye care, and dental visits.

The program was the brainchild of Thomas Statemen, HealthStar’s president. "We had a client who had some 100,000 employees," he recalls. "About 80% of them were part time, and they wanted a cheap plan as an incentive, something that wouldn’t cost more than $50 per month per employee." There was no such product.

But Statemen didn’t give up. He came up with the discount idea and held a pilot program in Chicago with this client. "They loved it. It was a cheap perk to offer employees that helped them to lower turnover."

The card, called AffordaCare, is now being launched in the Florida market — in part because there are a lot of part-time workers associated with the local leisure industry, and in part because Florida’s aging population is keen on saving money, says Statemen.

The card costs $25 to $45 per year for an individual, or $45 to $65 for a family, depending on the program purchased. The basic card works at participating physician offices and hospitals. Statemen says there are 1,800 doctors and nine hospitals signed up so far.

The AffordaCare Ancillary card offers access to discounts at Cole Vision and Pearle Vision; Wal-Mart and Kmart pharmacies; Jenny Craig Personal Weight Management Centers; Bally Total Fitness clubs; Beltone Hearing Aid Centers; and participating dentists. The AffordaCare Plus option combines the two programs.

Discount card creates no paperwork

AffordaCare offers patients a 20% to 30% discount at HealthStar-credentialed providers. Patients pay at the point of service, and physicians have no paperwork to fill out, Statemen says. Physicians work with an approved fee schedule, and if any of them are caught hiking their fees to cover their discount, they will be removed both from the AffordaCare program and the HealthStar provider lists for its more traditional products.

"I’ve had the best physician response to this than to any other program," he says. "And patients get immediate benefits."

For example, if a card holder was pregnant but uninsured, she could purchase the card and get a discount on prenatal care, as well as on her delivery and hospital costs. "It more than pays for itself," Statemen says. For those with medical savings accounts, it can also make those dollars stretch further.

In the future, Statemen says the card will be extended to include nursing homes. The program will expand to Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.