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When Health Care Becomes Hell Care

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Affordable health care. That's one of President Obama's major goals. He may not know it, but there's really no need for him to bother anymore. A group of companies has already beaten him to the punch in an expanding and impressive business I've never heard about -- health care at unbelievable, giant-sized discounts. For example, if you're ill, having problems with your teeth or you simply want to improve your looks, New Yorkers are being offered what have to be the bargains of their lifetime, such as a doctor's visit for just $10. That's any doctor of your choosing. Or, if you're not up to going out, a doctor will come to your house for as little as $25. Want one of those ultra-expensive MRIs, EKGs or a CT Scans? You got it. Again, only $25.

Wait, there's more. Got back problems? See a chiropractor for just $25. Or if you have a toothache or need some dental work, such as a new crown or root canal, lo and behold, $25. Or how about major cosmetics surgery, such as a facelift, boob enlargements or a tummy tuck that could run between $10,000 and $25,000? Again, just $25. Or perhaps some costly operation, including daily hospital charges? You guessed it: you get that, too, for a mere $25. That's $25 for the operation and $25 a day for a hospital stay.

Sounds unbelievable, right? That's what I thought, as well, but it's all part of what one company, Premier Health of Cheyenne, Wyo. says it's offering as part of a medical package which it describes as "comprehensive and affordable health coverage for you and the entire family." A sales representative laid out all the wonderful savings. To participate, you must be under 65, the age at which people can enroll for Medicare. If your doctor doesn't make house calls or might balk at the idea of a $25 visit, there's no need to worry because Premier Health says it has a nationwide list of physicians who will gladly provide this $25 service.

If you say it all sounds too good to be true, you're right. This medical business is monkey business -- one of the latest fax scams of which there are many in the health arena that is bombarding New York, accompanied by an 800 number that will give you access to a wide range of almost impossible-to-resist medical bargains. One major problem, though. Unfortunately, in the case of Premier Health, there is no record of any such company listed in Cheyenne, Wyo. Nor is there a Merck Health Benefits in Little Rock, Ark., which offers similar big savings though an 800 fax number. Pharmaceutical giant Merck told me there is no such operation at the drug company.

If you're about to say no logically thinking individual would give credibility to such fax offerings, don't. When I made an inquiry to the Better Business Bureau, I chuckled as I rattled off some of Premier Health's super medical bargains. "Don't laugh; it's not funny," a BBB spokesman said. "You can't imagine how many people are duped by these schemes."

Actually, Premier Health had faxed me several months ago with its enticing offer, but somehow I lost it. Not hearing from me and no doubt assuming I was a ripe candidate, Premier Health decided a few days ago to fire off another unsolicited fax to me. If you were to ring up the company's 800 number, as I did when I originally received its fax offering, you would subject yourself to a hard-sell sales representative touting you on the firm's super health coverage. That includes discounts of up to 46% on all drugs, 60% savings on all visual and hearing needs and a free 24-hour nurse line.

"We have three million customers nationwide and we're getting thousands and thousands of calls every day," a company representative told me when I originally called. "That probably includes many of your friends and neighbors in New York City, where we have already signed up a lot of people." When I asked if he could give me the name of a satisfied customer who I might talk to and verify the authenticity of the service, he explained he had no idea who at the company kept the customer list.

In my follow-up call, another pushy representative who sounded like she worked in a boiler room told me she was ready to sign me up. To do that, she explained she needed my Social Security number and the name of my bank so money be drafted out of my checking account.

I should mention some extra costs are required to obtain these dirt cheap medical bargains. To sign up for this arrangement, which supposedly covers participants for up to $500,000 worth of medical cost coverage, there is an immediate one-time charge of $324, plus an enrollment fee of $125. That entitles you to membership in any one of three plans that runs $199 per for an individual, $299 for a couple and $369 for the entire family. The way it works, you pay your initial fees, then provide the company with information about your personal checking and savings accounts and a deduction is made each month.

When I informed a Premier Health representative there was no such company listed in the Cheyenne, Wyo. phone directory, I was told I must have dialed the wrong number. When I persisted, she hung up. When I called again, my number had been blocked.

The Premier Health offering also contained a phone number enabling the recipient to remove its name from their database. I tried, but it's probably easier to scale Mt. Everest than it is to stop such faxes.

Obvious attractions in the Premier Health offering are those discounts I mentioned of up to 46% on all drugs and 60% on all visual and hearing aids. That's not real, the owner of an east side New York City drug store, Steven Goodman of Corby Chemists, told me, explaining "that drug pitch is a fake because you would have to lose money on such a discount."

In the film The Godfather, one of Marlon Brando's more memorable lines was, "We're going to make him an offer he can't refuse." My thoughts: When it comes to Premier Health, its offer is one that you can and absolutely should refuse.

Meanwhile, there really is a company out there called Premier Health, a leading Midwest health care provider in Dayton, O., but it doesn't issue any faxes and has no operations in New York. "We've heard about the use of our name before by some scam artist, so tell your readers to watch out," a company attorney said.

What makes this all so relevant is that these scam artists -- who remind me of some of those same folks who used to fax those penny stocks that they claimed could increase 500% to 1,000% or offer you an all-you-can-eat-and drink cruise to Cancun for $99 and luxury accommodations at huge discounts -- are preying on people who have a serious medical need, affordable health care. The common denominator: these offerings could all make you financially sick.