Over Winter Break, while browsing the Web, I noticed that the Internet discount giant Groupon now offers coupons for medical procedures. It’s clear many Americans who don’t have health insurance find these deals appealing, but is relying on Groupon for medical procedures a viable alternative to conventional health insurance?
The first deal I found was a teeth cleaning for $39. Groupon also listed full eye exams for $29. Both deals boasted hundreds of dollars in savings compared to the projected normal cost of the procedures. It didn’t shock me that these deals were available because many Americans don’t have dental or vision insurance — even I don’t have coverage for those. What scared me most, however, were the multiple discounts for full medical checkups. One deal offered an examination for only $69 — it even included blood and urine testing.
But it doesn’t stop there. There were even listings on Groupon for LASIK eye surgery at the unbeatable price of $2,100 per eye! That’s a 58 percent discount according to Groupon. These are just a few of the many deals on medical procedures that can be found on the site. In fact, according to an Associated Press article, DealRadar.com — an online coupon finder — found that one out of every 11 deals offered online last year were discounts on medical procedures.
As an aspiring pre-med student, I’m all for finding ways to make health care more affordable, but, using online deal sites like Groupon scares me.
For one, many of the businesses offering deals on Groupon are doing so to advertise their company or practice. The idea is simple: If potential customers, clients or patients come in and enjoy their experience, they are more likely to come back for additional services.
Eventually, those coupons for $29 eye exams will be extremely hard to find. When that happens, former coupon patients will either be forced to pay the full price of the procedure out of pocket, or forego the procedure altogether. Both of these are unfortunate options. It’s important to remember that like other businesses, ophthalmologists, dentists and every other medical professional can’t sustain services that are significantly discounted in the long run — they’d go bankrupt.
It’s dangerous to rely on coupons because they’re inconsistent. For example, if you get a cavity and your “health insurer” is Groupon, the only option you have is to go online and hope that a nearby dentist is offering discounts on fillings. If you can’t find such a discount, then you go without.
One final potential problem is the constant movement from one health professional to another. It’s unlikely to see the same doctor that offers a $69 checkup offer another discounted procedure one year later. If you want another checkup, you will need to purchase the most affordable discounted checkup that you can find, which will likely be with a different doctor.
Entire medical records are not quickly transferred from one office to another. One needs to fill out a lot of paperwork and questionnaires at both offices to facilitate the transfer. Unpredictable things can happen that could hinder the care you receive. Maybe you forget to mention an allergy, or perhaps previous relevant symptoms that could help your current doctor quickly diagnose a problem slip your mind on a given visit — there is real reason why many healthcare professionals claim consistency leads to better care.
In all, Groupon can help bridge gaps in one’s medical insurance, but online, discounted procedures are not a solution to America’s health care problems. The system isn’t reliable enough to be the primary source of care a person receives. Perhaps a more viable option is for sites like Groupon to offer coupons for conventional health coverage, like a discount on six months of coverage from established insurance companies. Hopefully the future holds better healthcare solutions for all Americans. Until then, I’m off to get my teeth cleaned for $39.
Chayson Hurst is an LSA junior.