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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Medical credit cards can cause heartburn

By Eleanor Laise





Some health care providers are offering credit cards designed to cover uninsured costs, but these cards come with a host of potential problems


JewishWorldReview.com | You already trust your health care providers with your physical well-being. Should you also trust them with your financial health?

That's the question consumers are facing as a growing group of health care providers give patients the option to charge their treatment costs on so-called medical credit cards. These cards, offered by major financial-services firms such as Citigroup, GE Capital and Wells Fargo, are designed for consumers paying out of pocket for dental, vision, audiology and other treatments not covered by patients' insurance. These cards also can cover veterinary costs for your pet.

Many patients sign up for these cards in their health care provider's office. The cards typically offer "deferred interest" payment options that promise consumers will avoid paying interest as long as they pay the full balance within a certain time frame, often six months to two years. Most regular credit cards assess interest charges much sooner.

Such cards may sound like the perfect solution for seniors slapped with, say, a $3,000 dental bill that Medicare or private insurance won't cover. But consumer advocates and state attorneys general are raising a host of concerns.

Among potential problems are confusing features of the deferred-interest payment options that can cause consumers to rack up huge interest charges. In some cases, there's also the potential for consumers to be charged upfront for treatments they never receive. And paying promptly with plastic may mean that patients lose the opportunity to negotiate prices with health care providers--a move that could save them much more money than a zero-interest payment plan.

Patient advocates also question whether such products should be promoted in a doctor's office. Often, in a health care setting, "you're dealing with people in the most vulnerable state," says Mark Rukavina, principal at consulting firm Community Health Advisors, in Chestnut Hill, Mass. "Most people go into a health care provider with pain and concern, and they're not there to make a financial-services decision."

Medical credit cards have gained steam as health care costs spiral higher and many patients find themselves paying a greater share of costs out of pocket. The cards attract health care providers because they can encourage more patients to move forward with treatments and offer immediate payment for services. GE Capital's CareCredit card, for example, is now accepted by roughly 160,000 providers, up from fewer than 150,000 in 2011.

Providers pay a fee to offer the cards. A 2010 investigation by New York's attorney general found that CareCredit paid providers rebates based on the amount consumers charged on the cards. CareCredit spokesperson Cristy Williams says "there's no longer any type of rebate program."

UNTANGLING THE NO-INTEREST OPTION
Many patients, meanwhile, are attracted by the cards promising no interest charges when balances are paid in full within a specific time frame. These plans typically require minimum monthly payments. If consumers don't pay the full balance by the end of this zero-interest period, however, they may be charged interest--not just on the remaining balance, but on the full original purchase amount, retroactive to the purchase date.

The interest rates are steep, with annual percentage rates in the realm of 27 percent to 29 percent. What's more, late payments during the zero-interest period sometimes trigger the retroactive interest charges.

While these details are typically included in the fine print, consumer advocates fear that patients won't get a clear explanation of such complex conditions when applying for a card in a health care provider's office.

"What the receptionist says will have a bigger impact than anything on a piece of paper," says Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.



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The card issuers say they provide training to health care providers' office staff and extensive disclosures to ensure consumers understand the products' terms. Ninety percent of Wells Fargo Health Advantage card holders using the no-interest option pay off their balance before expiration of the zero-interest period "and, therefore, don't pay any interest," says Wells Fargo consumer lending spokesperson Natalie Brown.

Some patients complain that health care providers promote use of medical credit cards as a means of getting paid for pricey treatments even before the treatment has begun. In a class action complaint filed late last year against Syracuse, N.Y.-based Aspen Dental Management, which operates hundreds of dental practices in 25 states, patients allege that the company used aggressive sales tactics to get patients to commit to expensive treatment plans and encouraged them to apply for CareCredit cards to pay the bill ahead of time.

The medical credit card "enables them to bill as much as possible upfront," says Brian Cohen, a New York City and Greenwich, Conn., lawyer representing the plaintiffs. And some patients' appointments are delayed or canceled as Aspen's scheduling system prioritizes the most profitable treatments, the complaint alleges.

In a statement on the class action complaint, Aspen said the allegations "are entirely without merit." Programs such as CareCredit "are a critically important option for many patients" and the terms are fully disclosed, Aspen Dental spokesperson Kasey Pickett said in an e-mail. "Patients are always presented with the option to pay for their care as service is rendered."

Williams, the CareCredit spokesperson, says that the company restricts providers' ability to charge upfront for services, and "treatment needs to be provided within a certain time frame, depending on the specialty or course of treatment."

No matter what credit cards they're carrying, consumers shouldn't rush to plunk down the plastic when paying medical bills, consumer advocates say. Consumers paying out of pocket are generally charged providers' full price--rates far higher than those Medicare and private insurers pay. But they can often negotiate much better deals directly with the provider, especially if they're armed with data about the range of prices for the treatment they're seeking. But "when a patient pays with a credit card, the health care provider can charge the full rack rate and the consumer loses the ability to negotiate," Wu says.

Many providers will agree to extended payment plans, allowing patients to stretch payments over many months without running the risk of incurring high fees and interest charges or damaging their credit, Rukavina says. Providers also may offer "prompt pay" discounts, often ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent, for patients paying their bills within 30 to 60 days, he says.

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Eleanor Laise is Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Retirement Report.



All contents copyright 2013 Kiplinger's Personal Finance Distributed by Tribune Media Services. All rights reserved.

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