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Discount Care No Bargain

A Northridge couple sue a medical services firm, claiming they got nothing for their money.

August 21, 2003|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

A lawsuit filed by a Northridge couple accuses a discount health-care company of collecting fees but failing to provide promised medical services.

The suit, filed Aug. 14 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, requests reimbursement of the couple's membership fees and closure of the company's operations in California.

In the complaint, Juan and Manuela Zermeno contend that they expected to receive medical services at a discount when they enrolled in the Care Entree Total Care medical services plan, but that the advertised discounts, savings and services never materialized.

Care Entree of Grand Prairie, Texas, is not an insurance plan, but a medical savings program that directly negotiates bargain rates with health-care providers and passes them on to its members, said Scott Palmer, a company spokesman. He declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The Zermenos' attorney, Alejandra Cedillo, said the couple enrolled in the plan on Dec. 1, 2001, after reading an advertisement in a Spanish-language circular.

The couple said they believed they were ineligible for medical insurance. Juan Zermenos works at a car wash and Manuela stays at home with the couple's children, including one who is disabled.

The advertisement declared that members could save up to 80% for medical and dental services, 50% for vision care and up to 40% for prescriptions, the suit said. Services could be obtained through a network of more than 315,000 qualified providers in all specialties, according to the advertisement.

The Zermenos made arrangements to pay the monthly membership fee of $54.95 with an automatic deduction from their checking account and were given a member identification number, the suit said.

When Manuela Zermenos contacted one of the dental offices listed as a Care Entree provider to make an appointment, she was told the dental office was not participating in any discount program, according to the suit. She contacted a second office and was told that they did not recognize the Care Entree name.

The Zermenos faxed a written cancellation request to Care Entree's office in Texas on Dec. 28, 2001, within the company's stated 30-day cancellation period.

"Care Entree not only ignored plaintiffs, but continued to take the monthly fee out of plaintiffs' bank account every month until December 2002," according to the suit.

After Cedillo wrote a letter demanding full reimbursement of $714.35, David P. May, vice president and general counsel for Precis Inc., Care Entree's parent company, sent a letter stating that the company would only refund three months' payment and sent the couple a check for $164.85, the suit said.

The couple is suing for the balance of $549.50 and asking the court to issue a restraining order to prohibit the company from operating in California.

"They are targeting the people who are the most vulnerable in our society," Cedillo said. "It's sad."

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