Monday, November 19, 2007

Get Well Cards from Highmark (not Hallmark)

The holiday season has arrived, as the ambient music in every public place will attest, but this year brings something new with it. This year you might just get a card in the mail that will pay your dental bill, or perhaps finance your insulin and your blood sugar meter. Bill Toland at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls them the ultimate get well cards, and he may well be right.

Highmark Inc., the Pittsburgh-based health insurer, hopes its new Healthcare Gift Card will encourage people who might be reluctant to visit the doctor or spend their money on prescriptions -- namely, seniors and college students -- to do so.

The card itself costs $4.95, and can be loaded with as little as $25, which might cover a prescription co-pay, to as much as $5,000, which could pay for an elective surgery, such as Lasik.

Toland says that Highmark is hoping to go national with these and is also pursuing a patent on the "intellectual technology." It's an interesting extension of the gift card phenomenon, but how exactly does it work? Can it be easily "hacked," and used for non health care purposes?

Highmark partnered with Visa in developing the card, which can be used just like a Visa credit card or debit card, but only at merchants that Visa has categorized as health-related. That means, yes, the urologist, but also the dentist, the eye doctor, the gym, the ear doctor and the family physician, not to mention the pharmacy.

But couldn't you just take the gift card to Rite Aid and spend it on a case of Coca-Cola and a bag of Snickers bars? "We obviously don't advertise that," Mr. [Kim] Bellard [Highmark's vice president of e-marketing and consumer relations] said. But the answer is, yes -- for now. In the future though, the purchases could be restricted not just from merchant to merchant, but from product to product. You could use the card on medicine, but not candy bars, in other words.

Additionally, according to the gift card website, the cards are not accepted at ATM machines and cannot be used in exchange for cash. They are also subject to a monthly service fee (currently listed as $1.50/month) as long as they carry a balance, but that fee does not start until after the card has been activated for nine months

These cards are being aimed at the dual demographics of seniors and college-aged kids. In the case of seniors it is being pushed as a way to assist with mounting medical bills, in the case of students mistrust seems to be the watchword. Mr Toland reports that Highmark's Mr. Bellard has said of the average college student, "You give him $200 in cash, he's going to spend it on beer."

SOURCE: "Highmark Offers Ultimate Get Well Card" 11/02/07
SOURCE: "Give Well - The Healthcare Visa Gift Card"
image by George Williams for the Health Care Reform Now! Blog

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