Uninsured flock to Groupon for discounted care

Despite some questions over the legality of doctors splitting revenue with discount sites such as Groupon, the proportion of healthcare-related deals offered through local and daily deal sites has continued to rise. And according to a report from the Associated Press, the nation's 46.3 million uninsured are helping to drive the trend.

As of November 2011, about 9 percent of all offers on daily deal websites were for dental or medical treatment, up from 4.5 percent a year earlier, Dan Hess, CEO and founder of Local Offer Network, told the AP.

The article cited recent deals, including a Groupon offer for a full medical checkup with blood, stool and urinalysis testing sold for $69 in New York, an AmazonLocal deal for $17 flu shots in Seattle and Lasik eye surgery in California for $2,100. Patients pay the websites upfront before making appointments with the doctors, and the deal offers at least half off of the regular price for the service.

Although such deals can help patients fill gaps in their health insurance, they may drive them to keep chasing the next deal, rather than form an ongoing relationship with one physician, noted David Williams, co-founder of consultancy MedPharma Partners and author of HealthBusinessBlog.com. The risks of this phenomenon include not only fragmented, uncoordinated care for patients but also a lack of repeat business to help the physician offset providing care at deep discounts.

Nonetheless, for physicians offering high-cost cosmetic procedures such as Lasik surgery, the deals draw a demographic to the office that would otherwise be unreachable. For Dr. Gregg Feinerman, an ophthalmologist who runs Feinerman Vision Center in Newport Beach, Calif., the 58 percent discount on Lasik he offered through Groupon achieved his goal of attracting more patients under the age of 30 for whom the full $5,000 price tag would prevent from exploring the idea of eye surgery.

To learn more:
- read the AP article from msnbc.com