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Blue Cross policy holders will get $100 to $500 in wellness gift cards. Money is part of insurer's pandemic response.
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Blue Cross policy holders will get $100 to $500 in wellness gift cards. Money is part of insurer's pandemic response.

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. is providing more than 600,000 member households with a health and wellness retail cards valued at between $100 and $500.

The insurer said it is providing about $200 million worth of the cards as one of its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on N.C. members.

The cards are expected to arrive to the customers' mail address between Oct.19 and Nov. 7. The amount on the retail card will depend on the products in which members are enrolled.

Blue Cross NC said eligible subscribers are those enrolled in individual plans for those under age 65, as well as fully insured employer plans, including vision and dental plans.

However, the insurer said the cards aren’t applicable to the following plan types: Medicare, federal employee program (medical, vision or dental products), Student BlueSM, State Health Plan, and self-insured group medical plans.

The cards cannot be used to pay for insurance premiums, prescription drugs, tobacco, alcohol or firearms.

“We recognize the unexpected hardship and uncertainty many of our members face because of COVID-19,” Dr. Tunde Sotunde, Blue Cross NC's president and chief executive, said in a statement.

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“We are committed to the well-being of our members, and we want to help them prioritize and pay for their health and wellness during this time.”

Blue Cross NC said it is funding cards from the monies received from the federal government following litigation related to the Affordable Care Act temporary risk corridor program.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government is required to follow-through on the promise of the ACA risk corridor program that covered years 2014 through 2016.

While not intended to protect insurers from all losses in the ACA marketplace, the risk corridor program provided an appropriate and necessary backstop on losses for insurers that were willing to serve people in the new marketplace.

In addition to the health and wellness retail cards, Blue Cross NC applied the remaining risk corridor funds to help keep 2021 rates for many of its customers lower.

For 2021, Blue Cross NC said that ACA plans offered to individuals will be reduced by an average of 1% percent on a statewide basis — the third consecutive year it has lowered ACA rates for cumulative reduction of nearly $1 billion.

Mike Causey, the state's insurance commissioner, said in a statement that he agreed with Blue Cross NC's strategy with the retail cards.

“Earlier this year, I met with Blue Cross and Blue Shield leadership to discuss ways to assist policyholders and communities that may be financially suffering,” Causey said.

“These retail cards can be used to help many North Carolinians pay for health and other household expenses when their economic well-being is uncertain.”

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