An Incredibly Depressing Last-Minute Gift: Medical Gift Cards

What’s this? A gift card? For health care? Oh, you shouldn’t have! Really. You shouldn’t have. Yet, medical gift cards issued by health insurers and hospital systems are increasingly more common.

Available gifts range from discount cards for medical and dental services to credits for in-home caregiver services.

But some in health care point out that some cards may not be the right choice because they come with numerous restrictions or cost more than the benefit is worth.

“If you’re a company, it costs you nothing to put out a gift card. Even if they are not particularly a good deal, even a few people will buy them,” said Dr. David Howard, a health policy expert at Emory University in Atlanta.

We at Consumerist would argue that that statement also applies to all gift cards, but the combination of health insurance and gift cards seems like it could be a festival of rules, restrictions, and fees. Be wary. Last year, Consumer Reports didn’t have nice things to say about a healthcare prepaid Visa card (now discontinued) released by health insurance company Highmark.

Medical gift cards pay for doctor, dentist visits [AP via WalletPop]
Health gift-card fees can make you sick [Consumer Reports Money]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Megalomania says:

    Hope they don’t come with an expiration date – it would suck if you had to break your own arm just to get your money’s worth.

  2. Coles_Law says:

    A credit towards a procedure wouldn’t be too bad. Discount card screams ripoff though.

  3. Digitizer says:

    A subtle way to tell Aunt Betsy to get her teeth fixed

  4. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I WISH I could get one of these…I just got a bill in the mail, on Christmas Eve, from my health provider, after I had routine blood testing done. My share? $163.44 of the $341.00 bill. Plus, I pay nearly $300.00 a month in insurance payments just to have insurance! GRRRR.

    • lupinthethird says:

      that sounds pretty useless then

    • TVarmy says:

      Wow! Can I sign on to your plan? I pay $800 a month when I’m not in school.

      • sonneillon says:

        you might as well get a prescription plan and put the rest into a savings account. Maybe with some catastrophic insurance. Or you have a condition that requires dialysis or expensive treatments, then you are stuck.

    • Beef Supreme says:

      How much of that was your deductible though?

      I pay about $200 a month, but after my deductible I pay no more than 10% of total costs in network up to the annual max.

  5. davere says:

    Tonight is the 1 year anniversary of my trip to the ER which led to the removal of my gallbladder shortly thereafter. I could have used some of these, even after BCBS did its part, and after I disputed some completely obvious erroneous charges.

    Just wanted to share.

    ~ FIN ~

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I haven’t even LOOKED at my paperwork yet from my gallbladder removal the day before Thanksgiving. Why spoil my holiday!?

      • Benny Gesserit says:

        Weird coincidence: about a month ago, I had a gallstone removed on Friday, gall bladder removed on Saturday and, after two nights in the hospital I was well enough to go home on Sunday PM. (The surgery was “keyhole” so I wasn’t bad off – just a week off of work to rest.)

        But, well, I’m Canadian and, ummm, (small voice) I didn’t have to pay out of pocket for anything. Except the cab ride home from the hospital, I guess.

        • Awjvail says:

          It is comments like these that make me go “teehee!”. Canada rules.

          P.S. – The Chipmunks xmas song is on the radio right now. Christmasss Christmasss timeee is hereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

  6. Julia789 says:

    Sounds like the public service announcement I saw on TV, which suggested buying a pap smear appointment for the beloved woman in your life as a Christmas gift.

    “It could save her life” the commercial/PSA announced. Yes, it could. But nothing says romance like “Honey, for Christmas I’m going to have you tested for a sexually transmitted virus and abnormal pre-cancerous cells.”

    How about the pap smear because you care, not as a Christmas gift? It can be done at a low cost or nearly free at Planned Parenthood or city women’s clinics, for those who don’t have insurance.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      For me, nothing embodies the Christmas spirit like having my cervix scraped.

      • Julia789 says:

        Perhaps the women who receive this thoughtful gift can reciprocate, by making an appointment for their husband or boyfriend to have their colon and prostate examined… or perhaps a cotton swab up the urethra for STD testing. In the holiday spirit, of course.

        • pinkpetunia says:

          There’s also a PSA for the prostate exam too. They’re both broadcast on CBS.

          • Julia789 says:

            Neato – do they suggest the prostate exam as a Christmas gift, or just suggest it in general?

            To me, medical procedures seem like more of a “gift to oneself” than a gift to give a spouse…

      • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

        I’ll drink to that!! And Merry Xmas, Laura!

        (Gulp gulping egg nog with so much rum it could set a Pirate on fire…)

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i’ll be sooo disappointed if any of my gifts this year include a pap smear. i asked for a mammogram.

  7. H3ion says:

    Next will be the funeral gift card which will come packaged in its own miniature coffin. Does anyone else think that a medical gift card is in bad taste? Maybe the equivalent of a gift of designer mouth wash? If a loved one needed a medical procedure, there’s always cash.

  8. AJ_Syrinx says:

    This is just sad. Seriously.

  9. ConsumerWolf says:

    Some relief will be on the way with the passage of sweeping healthcare reform pushed by Obama and dems. But props to the Consumerist for emphasizing the need for change in posts like this. The pro-corporation teabaggers put up a good fight (against their own self-interest), but dems have stood up for the consumer once again!

  10. 2 replies says:

    Nothing say Happy Holidays better than a gift that says; “I expect you to get extremely sick sometime soon, or possibly hurt enough to need hospital care.”

  11. jacobs cows says:

    More practical than another necktie.

  12. Winteridge2 says:

    Who needs ’em? Our government just gave us the big ultimate gift card! HOOOEEE!

  13. NickelMD says:

    They would be worth it if they were for a discounted cost. So you buy $200, that gets you a $200 bill but also the lowest charged rate (generally Medicaid rates.) That would be a deal and it would probably benefit the hospitals and clinics, because Medicaid is better than nothing.

  14. Bog says:

    How about gift cards for the strip club? That would be less depressing.