The saliva test and discount medical card scams -- how to tell what's genuine and what's not: Internet Scambusters #344
This week we have a Snippets issue that focuses on two health-related subjects that can be the subject of scams -- the saliva test and discount medical cards.
Often when you try to save money on healthcare or take a shortcut route to diagnosing medical conditions with home testing, you run the risk of wasting your money.
While the saliva test can be useful in some situations -- and some medical discount cards really do work -- users can also be easy prey for scammers.
It's important to point out that there are perfectly legitimate versions of both, but they do lay themselves open to scams, and users need to be aware of the tricks.
In this Snippets issue, we explain what you need to know about these two services and how to avoid the con artists.
Let's get started...
The Saliva Test That Doesn't Taste Right
Advances in scientific knowledge and understanding enable specialists to learn a lot more from our bodily fluids -- like blood, sweat, saliva and urine -- than they used to be able to.
The bad news is that these tests can't tell us everything. Some are downright useless in giving us certain types of information. Others are nowhere near as reliable as the providers claim them to be.
Saliva tests are a case in point. Saliva -- bluntly, the spit in our mouths -- is notoriously unreliable for one main reason: its principal role is to mix in with all the other things we put in our mouths, especially food (and the germs we breathe in).
It's full of bacteria and outside agents that are replenished every time we lick our lips, nibble on a pen, or consume food and drink.
But more often, saliva simply doesn't contain the ingredients that are needed to accurately diagnose specific conditions.
In particular, saliva tests that supposedly not only identify hormone imbalances but also provide information to enable custom preparations to be made to correct those imbalances are often just a scam.
For a start, the level of hormones in your saliva varies drastically over even a short period of time.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has issued warnings to some firms for making unsupportable claims, says: "Advertisements that a drug can be created 'just for you' based on saliva testing are appealing but unrealistic."
That doesn't stop scores of firms offering just that service.
Others claim their saliva test kits can predict ovulation times. But the FDA points out that even simple actions like eating, drinking, smoking or brushing teeth can make the tests unreliable.
Saliva samples are also used to test for drug use. If you are an employer or anyone else using this method, be warned that there are countless websites offering advice and even products to neutralize them.
Of course, as we suggested at the start, some saliva testing is done legitimately and appears to be useful (though not infallible) in identifying certain conditions and diseases.
The bottom line is that you should seek qualified medical advice before embarking on any kind of test for your health. Certainly, you should never take action based on the result of a self-administered test without such advice.
Discount Medical Cards That Take More Than They Give
With the soaring cost of healthcare, every opportunity to save money may help, so it's no surprise that many people turn to medical discount cards as a way of cutting their bills.
And it's a great idea -- providing you save more than you pay out for the card.
Discount medical cards work by offering users significant savings on medical, dental, optical or pharmacy bills.
Legitimate firms that offer these cards first negotiate savings with providers, then sell the cards, usually for a monthly fee, to the general public.
Providers make their money through the increased level of business the cards drive to their pharmacies and clinics. The card providers profit from the sale of the cards. And the users save by cutting their costs.
So it should be a win-win-win situation. But not always.
Sadly, in some cases, the cards are just a scam -- as a couple dozen Montanans recently discovered when they found the cards they paid good money for were utterly worthless.
The company they bought them from did not have contracts for discounts with the healthcare providers they claimed to be working with.
In other cases, sellers -- usually operating via telemarketing -- deliberately mislead customers into thinking they're buying cheap health insurance, when they are not. Discount medical cards are distinctly different.
This is dangerous because, in some cases, victims, believing they've found a good cut-price deal, give up their existing health insurance.
Later, when they discover the con, it's either more expensive or even impossible to regain their previous coverage. Plus, they may be lumbered with medical bills they'd thought were covered.
If you're offered or are considering buying a discount medical card, here are the steps you should take to ensure you know what you're buying:
- Be skeptical of any firm that promises the same kind of healthcare coverage you can buy elsewhere but at a massively reduced cost.
- Seek written information on what is covered and what is not, and specifically on whether medical treatment is covered and, if so, what types of treatment are included or excluded. In other words, get it in writing!
- Ensure the service providers are named and that they are the ones you want or can use.
- Do your homework on whether the scale of any savings you will make -- on meds for instance -- will be offset by the fee you pay for the card.
- Check out the card provider online. If it's a scam, someone else will likely have reported it.
- Are there conditions in the fine print that will let the provider off the hook if things turn sour? Or are there additional fees you have to pay to get a particular product or service?
It's worth noting that a number of American states offer their own discount cards -- totally free. To see if yours does or to check out the credentials of someone you're thinking of working with, contact your state insurance department.
Both of the potential scams we have outlined in this Snippets issue call for common sense and healthy skepticism about claims made for products or services. You owe it to yourself -- and your good health.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!