Dr. Dev GnanaDev, immediate past president of the California Medical Association told the LA Times earlier this week that “They’re basically cheating poor people.” He was referring to companies that offer discounted medical plans disguised as medical insurance.

The two of course are completely different. Medical insurance coverage provides the assurance that agreed treatments and procedures will be covered as long as a monthly premium is kept in good standing. In the event of a health care emergency, medical insurance companies will cover the full bill if the expense met with the terms and conditions of the insurance agreement.

Discounted medical plans on the other hand do not offer to cover any expenses. Instead, the company takes a fee in exchange for granting access to a list of pre-approved doctors, other health care providers and drug companies that have agreed to offer discounts to plan members.

The difference here is critical and could mean the difference between getting the necessary treatment or not.

This is why state officials in California have joined the ranks of those who went before them in Massachusetts last September, to fight those companies who are ambiguous or even purposefully misleading consumers regarding the health care product they are offering for sale.

So far over 150 complaints have been filed against unlicensed discount health and dental plans in California over the past four years.

The frightening reality is that these unscrupulous companies target the most vulnerable group of people. Those who are struggling to find ways to cover all the bases tend to fall for the hope of purchasing health care coverage at lower rates, so they readily believe when the medical plans are sold as insurance policies, only to face the ugly truth in times of crisis when it matters the most.

Companies that sell legitimate discount medical plans though take umbrage with the allegation that all of these plans are akin to scams. They argue that medical discount plans provide relief from expensive health care costs for a vast number of people and they should not be pushed aside as irrelevant.

One thing is for sure the battle for fair practices in the health care industry has only just begun. But the state’s hands-on interest in consumer rights within the health care industry will lead to a better informed public and an increase in the awareness of available products and services.