In the truest “gift that keeps on giving” sense of the phrase, health insurers are taking advantage of the gift-giving season to help members achieve healthy outcomes.  Promoted as stocking stuffers at various drug stores, health insurance gift cards can be used to pay bills and insurance premiums or for specific services at eye doctors and dentist offices.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida might have the largest program, selling cards at more than 1,000 Winn-Dixie and CVS stores in the state, reports the Associated Press.

“The person can make the decision on where to use it. That is really the gift of it,’’ said Sue Allen, a spokeswoman for Holy Family Memorial Health Network, a Wisconsin hospital and clinic chain that sells gift cards.

In the Blue Cross, Blue Shield program, with a $19 card, recipients save 10% to 50% on braces, dentures, crowns, fillings, oral surgery, and cosmetic dentistry; 20% off brand name and generic medications through most major pharmacies; and 10% to 60% on eye exams, glasses, and contacts. For a larger fee, $59, a card can be used to help pay a premium or toward access to health insurance.

Doug Bartel, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida spokesman, acknowledged the cards do not cover everything and do not replace comprehensive health plans provided by an employer or purchased individually.

“They are a wonderful solution, but they are not the ideal solution for everyone,’’ Bartel said.

And not all health insurers believe in the success of such programs. In 2007, Pennsylvania health insurer Highmark launched its Healthcare Visa Gift Card, which was designed to assist with out-of-pocket medical and health expenses. But Consumer Reports revealed that the cards could be used to purchase anything sold at a pharmacy, including cigarettes.  A spokesperson from Highmark says the company dropped the card after a year because of consumer confusion.


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