Posted September 9, 2013 by Chris Warren in Blog

Prepaid Debit Cards And Obamacare

Prepaid Debit Cards And Obamacare
Prepaid Debit Cards And Obamacare

Pretty much nothing has been uncontroversial about President Barack Obama’s health care reform law. From screams about so-called “death panels” to complaints that the new law, known officially as the Affordable Care Act, doesn’t cover enough people, reasoned debate and compromise has been basically non-existent since well before the bill was even introduced to Congress.

And even though Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted dozens of times to repeal the law and efforts are still continuing to de-fund it, the Obama administration is feverishly working to get the health exchanges it creates up and running. As part of that effort, according to reports in Businessweek Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, the White House issued rules in late Aug. that declare that prepaid debit cards can be used by citizens to pay for their new health care plans.

According to the Businessweek story by John Tozzi, the state exchanges that will begin opening in Oct. will be required to accept payment via not only prepaid debit cards but also checks, money orders and bank wire transfers. In a way, this shouldn’t be at all surprising. After all, the Affordable Care Act is aimed largely at helping low-income families to purchase health care. Even though these new entrants to the health care market will be aided with government subsidies to help afford their new plans, they will still need a way to pay for it. For an estimated 10 million U.S. households lacking a bank account, a regular check is not an option. And according to a Vanderbilt University study cited in the Businessweek article, nearly 30% of those eligible for health care subsidies do not have bank accounts.

Enter prepaid debit cards, a product that the federal government is already quite familiar and comfortable with. Indeed, tax refunds and a host of different government benefits can already be deposited to a prepaid debit card account. Still, there is likely to be criticism of the use of prepaid debit cards in this instance, since so many of them come with high fees. Then again, would anybody really expect this aspect of Obamacare to be less controversial than all the rest?


Chris Warren