Insurer Says, "Turn Medical Costs Into Holiday Gifts!"

Nothing says “I love you, Mom,” like some more medicine for her diabetes, or “You’re the best, Dad,” like a refill of nitro tablets. That’s why the health insurance company Highmark is offering new Healthcare Visa Gift Cards—for about $5 plus an unspecified shipping and handling fee, you can load it with anywhere from $25 to $5,000 to be used exclusively on medical expenses. After the first 9 months, the card emerges from the womb of “I already paid for this!” and starts charging you a monthly $1.50 maintenance fee. Won’t your kid be excited come Christmas morning when she finds out her staph infection is going to get treated?!

Highmark is quite proud of their new invention. They clearly feel that not only is it in good taste, which it isn’t, but that there’s never been anything else like it on the planet, which there has:

“Ultimately, we think this product may go national,” said Kim Bellard, Highmark’s vice president of e-marketing and consumer relations. He expects other insurers will be interested in using the “intellectual technology,” which Highmark hopes to patent.

All patent stupidity aside, now that Medicare prescription plans are set to rise 21% next year, maybe your grandmother really wouldn’t mind swapping out real gifts with the gift of continuing eyesight—and just helping her pay for that medicine with cash makes it look like you didn’t even care enough to go buy a gift card.

“Highmark offers the ultimate get-well card” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] (thanks to Uri!)

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  1. This was my birthday present from my mom: a trip to the E.R. Wheeeeee.

  2. Youthier says:

    Ridiculous. I’m not sure if spiderjerusalem was joking but I can understand your parents going, “Okay, I know that instead of a sweater on a iPod or whatever, you could really use the cash to pay off you appendectomy” and writing that check. But a giftcard?

    Maybe they could market this to relatives of drug addicts though. You know, so the cash goes to healthcare instead of meth making supplies. There you go, Highmark! Market to druggie relatives!

  3. Youthier says:

    @HeyHermano: *OR aN iPod. Wow, spelling and usuage errors on words that are two letters long.

  4. DrGirlfriend says:

    This is great for thos epeople on your list who “have everything”.

    They may have everything, but what they probably don’t have is great Rx coverage.

  5. juri squared says:

    I suppose this could be useful if parents don’t trust their kids – the sort of kids that use the cash intended for their presciption on beer instead. But that’s a deeper problem then a gift card could fix anyways.

  6. @spiderjerusalem: I was totally serious. I’d been sick for a couple weeks. For me it was ignorable, because I didn’t have the $100 for the trip to the E.R., but my mom was worried, so she gave me E.R. money.

  7. CurbRunner says:

    What this amounts to is a pathetic capitalist response
    to the even more pathetic condition of health care in this country.

    A blogger I read, xxdr_zombiexx, got it right by saying:

    “The Card solidifies everything that is wrong with Healthcare in America. The basic, immovable wrongness of this card is the notion of health care somehow being a gift. Like a tie or a pair of gloves. Something wrapped up for a special occasion.
    This card is a crystallization of that belief system.
    This wrongness is, to me, amplified or multiplied in it’s awfulness by being available as a plastic card, like all those little gift cards at Target and 1000 other stores.
    Somehow it’s better to give one’s cash to a company rather than directly to the person one intends to receive the gift.
    It’s engaging in a false arrangement to obscure the fact that one is giving money directly to another person. For whatever reason. It’s making up a a falsehood and pretending it is real.
    The plastic card is intended to add meaning to this transaction, as if just giving a person cash isn’t “good enough”.
    The added meaning is the distraction; the “hide and go seek” this process intends to play with reality
    Focusing specifically on the “healthcare card” I say the major statement that is made is that healthcare is something that is given to people. Unspoken but implicit is the notion at the bottom of our healthcare crisis in this country: that healthcare is not a right.
    Also implicit in this is the notion that one cannot just directly pay for another persons medical care, like buying them a really expensive drink at a bar, or something.
    Why would it be bad or unacceptable to just pay for someone to get care?
    Why give money to a massive corporation first and then get a little plastic card to accomplish the same exact thing, that neither party should be worried about in the first place?
    Use of the card signifies acceptance of this ugly, unwritten social contract. It is tantamount to voting yes again and again that healthcare is a luxury option and not an inherent, inalienable human right.
    This card reinforces everything that is wrong with healthcare in America today.

    I say it is unconscionable.

    It’s akin to making a person dig their own grave. It’s just as offensive.

    It is The Root of The Crisis.”

  8. scoosdad says:

    @HeyHermano: “Wow, spelling and usuage errors on words that are two letters long.”

    (No comment necessary.)

  9. ChrisC1234 says:

    @CurbRunner: You’re right… Health care in this country IS a gift. I’d bet that for 90% of us, the only reason we have affordable healthcare is because it’s a GIFT from our employer. If group insurance coverage suddenly wasn’t an option, how many of us would find ourselves uninsured? I know I probably wouldn’t be insured (or insured at the level that I currently am).

  10. bohemian says:

    The disgusting idea that healthcare is some sort of optional luxury aside, the card is totally stupid.
    Pay money to get the card, plus the face value put on it AND shipping and handling. Then it gets eroded with ongoing fees.

    This makes about as much sense as rent to own stores.

  11. SOhp101 says:

    Just write a check.

    Why do Americans fall into the marketing illusion that somehow gift cards are much better than cash/check? Cash can be spent virtually anywhere, it has no expiration date, and it doesn’t have a maintenance fee.

    The only time I do give a gift card is when it’s specifically requested. Otherwise if I don’t know the ‘perfect gift’ to give, then clean, crisp Jacksons in a pretty envelope are an alternative that always brings a smile to anyone’s face.

  12. @SOhp101: I will say that I don’t always put cash towards what people intend for me to. I rarely buy anything for myself, because I’m convinced that my husband or stepdaughter will need the money, and then I’ll feel bad for having bought myself a book. Having a gift card is license to actually invest in myself a little. Especially Bed, Bath, and Beyond and book store gift cards. Mmm…Santa baby…

  13. Youthier says:

    @scoosdad: I’ll just blame the time change. That extra hour of sleep is dangerous.

  14. After the first 9 months, the card emerges from the womb of “I already paid for this!” and starts charging you a monthly $1.50 maintenance fee.

    They ought to call it a Healthcare Debit Account instead of a gift card.

    Why would it be bad or unacceptable to just pay for someone to get care?
    @CurbRunner: That’s assuming they need care at the time you give them the card.

    Like previous people have said, the card makes sense if you want to pay for someone’s future health care costs but, for whatever reason, don’t trust them to only spend it for health reasons.

    That said, the card only makes slightly more sense than other gift cards which isn’t much.

  15. Brian Gee says:

    @ChrisC1234: That’s not a gift from your employer. That’s part of the compensation for the work you do. You’re earning it right along with your salary. You don’t consider your paycheck to be a gift, do you?

  16. @CurbRunner: Amen to that. Highmark employees deserve their own circle of hell for intentionally trying to re-contextualize good health as a luxury item.

  17. PaulMorel says:

    Cynical corporate move of the year!

    Whoever came up with this idea has never struggled with money or affording health care.

  18. PaulMorel says:

    @CurbRunner: You have a url for that post? I’d like to digg it.

  19. hapless says:

    @Brian Gee:

    The group policy itself is a gift to those with high medical costs, and the employer plays no role other than broker in its creation.

    The fact that your employer pays part of the cost has a lot more to do with tax shelters than anything else :)

  20. @PaulMorel: I found the post CurbRunner was writing about:

    [www.smirkingchimp.com]

  21. 7j6cei says:

    Just another reason Blue Cross (ah damn I mean Highmark) SUCKS!!!!

  22. bobpence says:

    At my last company I had a Visa card linked to my Flexible Spending Account — pre-tax dollars, no fee, no reimbursement paperwork or waiting for a check. For that, it was a fine idea.

    But the only useful thing about this is that it restricts the way the funds are used, ideal for addicts and people who can’t budget. That said, is there a market for it?

  23. supra606 says:

    Number one, I think this is just plain distasteful. Number two, even if I did want to give someone money for healthcare as a gift, why in the world would I give some of it to some company instead of just giving them cash?!? “Here you go, here’s 100 healthcare dollars. Well, actually it would be $100 except that I gave some of the money to this company so they could put what was left of your money on this neat card! Use it fast though because they’ll leach away at it until it’s gone.” The sad thing is that they wouldn’t be doing this if there weren’t actually people out there who would buy it.

  24. Eric Lai says:

    Oooh, cross promotional opportunities! We can bundle these cards with cigarettes and handguns!

  25. Brian Gee says:

    @hapless: If you leave your job, do you get to keep the “gift”?

    A group policy certainly can make healthcare more affordable to those with high medical costs, but it’s not a gift. It’s part of the total compensation your employer pays you, right along with your salary, vacation and sick days. If you work there, you can join the group policy; if you don’t work there, you cannot. Its not a gift, its a benefit. It is compensation for a job.

    When you retire and they give you a watch, THAT is a gift.

  26. TechnoDestructo says:

    You can’t patent an obvious idea. (Well, you’re not SUPPOSED to be able to)

    Just because no one was doing it doesn’t mean it wasn’t obvious…it could just be stupid.

  27. TechnoDestructo says:

    Also….”Highmark”?

    “Highmarking” is riding a snow machine up the side of a mountain until you run out of momentum, to see how high you can go.

    It is a pastime which really requires participants to have health insurance, so I guess it isn’t THAT weird a name.

  28. Bay State Darren says:

    Brazil reference time no. 2 this week!:

    Ida Lowry: Oh by the by, I saw the most wonderful idea for christmas presents at the chemists. Gift tokens, medical gift tokens. It’s good at any doctors and most of the major hospitals. It’s also accepted for gynecological examinations, including ceasarian sections.

    Tomorrow on Consumerist: Harry Buttle being held responsible for Harry Tuttle’s bill.

  29. Brian Gee says:

    @Bay State Darren: woohoo! Prior art! :)

  30. synergy says:

    This isn’t new. I’ve done that for years for my mother.

    Those stupid gift cards. Gah! When will people learn to just GIVE them money to the person without the gift card middleman that loves to dwindle what you put on the card down to $0!

  31. SexCpotatoes says:

    Screw writing a cheque, write a bad cheque!