Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Consumerism Goes Medical

Our society is getting pretty messed up. We are developing a culture of selfishness and we're being egged on by the retail industry, the car industry, the housing industry, and the MEDICAL INDUSTRY?! Ok, perhaps not medicine itself but the medical finance industry. Here's my pearl of anecdotal evidence.

A little while ago, my wife needed to have some dental work done (a bridge replaced). Turns out that this is an extremely expensive set of procedures on the order of several thousand dollars. Well, since I'm not at the point where I have that kind of money laying around, we opened an account with a company called Care Credit. They're big thing is that they'll defer interest for up to a year to give you a chance to pay off your debt. This looked like a good deal and, based on our experience, I would recommend it to people with unexpected medical bills. All in all, I've been pretty happy with it.

Well, along with monthly bills, also came a monthly newsletter called CareCheckup - Healthful Hints on Living and Staying Well. So I look at it expecting something extolling the virtues of staying well with, of course, the mandatory push to use Care Credit if the worst should happen. I was expecting it to contain stories about how Care Credit had helped many of the month to month people who get caught with medical expenses they can't afford. Was it in there? Not at all. The entire newsletter was devoted to how Care Credit can help you with plastic surgery (for your high school reunion or to get your pre-pregnancy look back), cosmetic dentistry, lasik, etc. I've looked through two or three newsletters now and there is nothing about helping with the unexpected medical expense. The entire thing is devoted to how you can freely borrow money to pay for elective surgeries.

Now comes the good part - what it actually costs. While Care Credit is great for deferring medical expense, be sure to read the fine print. Interest will begin to accrue immediately upon charging the card. The interest free gimmick only works if you pay off the ENTIRE balance before your 12 month (or less) grace period expires. After that you'll not only be charged interest on your current balance but you'll be charged retroactively for interest from the day you made your purchase. And what's the interest rate? About 20%.

So you've got a newsletter encouraging you to spend more than you have on care you don't need at a finance charge of 20%. And people wonder why the American public is so badly in debt...

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