The coupons tend to attract younger patients looking for one-off services that don’t require much follow up. Tellingly, even though many of these Americans already possess private insurance, the online deals are more generous than their benefits:
Health and medical deals make up about 5 to 10 percent of the online coupon industry, according to Unaiz Kabani, data product manager at Yipit, a service that aggregates companies’ daily deals. Groupon, the market leader, had about 115 million subscribers in 2011, which he says are mostly 20- to 40-year-old college-educated women. Living Social says it has about 70 million members.
Health providers often see good results after an initial offer, but the patients who come in for treatment frequently don’t return.
“When you’re looking at a demographic that’s young, where some may have insurance, some many not, they’re more inclined to be episodic,” said James Doulgeris, a health care business and marketing strategist at HCP Associates.
He said coupons are often the cheapest option for healthy people who may not need follow-up appointments. Even for those enrolled in a private insurance plan, the cost of using an online deal or a retail clinic may be less than seeing an in-network physician.
ThinkProgress has previously reported on multiple instances of Americans resorting to desperate measures such as online “crowd funding” — in essence, cyber-begging — in order to pay for their medical care. This is as much a testament to the consumer-assisting potential of the Internet as it is an indictment of America’s increasingly costly health care system.
Although many of the Americans utilizing such deals are doing so out of convenience and don’t suffer from recurring or debilitating health problems, the fact that a fair number of them already have private insurance should serve as a warning sign regarding the pitfalls of inadequate coverage. And the problem only gets worse for those with more extensive medical needs. While Obamacare will assist Americans in purchasing private insurance through its federal subsidies, its “essential health benefits” do not encompass several common — and expensive — treatments such as vision care and dental care for adults.