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Last updated: June 23. 2013 1:00AM - 630 Views

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There’s some good news for consumers without bank accounts worried about whether they can benefit from the Affordable Care Act.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said last week that it is proposing new rules to address a concern that many insurance companies planned to require customers to pay premiums automatically through a checking account.


The tax preparation firm Jackson Hewitt Tax Service raised the concern in a recently issued report. It said that without a rule change, about 8.5 million Americans could be affected.


“More than 1 in 4 uninsured Americans eligible for the new premium assistance tax credits under the ACA does not have a checking account,” the report said. “Among the uninsured, non-elderly population with household incomes in the tax-credit-eligible range, 27 percent are effectively ‘unbanked.’”


Many consumers “don’t have the option of opening a bank account, and if they do, a lot of consumers refuse to do it because of the high fees attached to them,” said Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt.


Jackson Hewitt called on the federal government to require insurance companies to accept payment through prepaid debit cards and other forms of payment commonly used by unbanked Americans.


On Friday, the government responded with its proposed rule that would require issuers of qualified health plans in all states to accept a variety of forms of premium payment.


Open enrollment for state-based insurance exchanges starts in October. The federal government will run the exchange in Texas.


“We realize that a segment of the population that will seek health insurance coverage through an exchange will not have bank accounts or credit cards, and we have received numerous questions and comments on this topic,” the proposed rule said.


“These people should be able to access coverage through an exchange on the same basis as those with a bank account or credit card and should not be unable to access coverage merely due to the inability to pay their share of the premium.


“Therefore, we propose to require qualified health plan issuers at a minimum accept a variety of payment formats, including, but not limited to, paper checks, cashier’s checks, money orders, and replenishable pre-paid debit cards, so that individuals without a bank account will have readily available options for making monthly premium payments.”


Insurance companies may also offer electronic funds transfers from a bank account and automatic deduction from a credit or debit card as payment options.


Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas said it’s developing two payment options for its members:


Partnering with certain retailers where members shop to allow them to walk in and make a payment in person, using cash or a debit card.


Designating Blue Cross Blue Shield locations where members can walk in to pay and also speak with a customer service representative about health benefits questions they may have.


“We are also establishing a process to allow on-demand credit card payment acceptance for retail premium payments,” said spokeswoman Margaret Jarvis.


“While we will continue to accept the traditional forms of payment — checks and money orders — we will also accept partial/multiple payments as long as full payment is made by the due date,” she said.


UnitedHealthcare’s Golden Rule Insurance Co. accepts checks, cash, money orders, cashier’s checks, Western Union and electronic funds transfer for premium payments, said spokeswoman Ellen Laden.


“We accept pre-paid debit cards with the Visa or MasterCard logo for initial premium payments and in certain other circumstances,” she said. “There is no surcharge to customers for using them.”


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