While a Medicare flex card can be incredibly useful for seniors on private Medicare Advantage Plans, a lot of misinformation and false advertisement surrounds these cards. And as we approach open enrollment this fall, the TV and online ads are certain to only increase.
So, what are these cards? A Medicare flex card is basically a debit card available to eligible older adults on some Medicare Advantage Plans. The cards are not connected to the federal program but instead are offered through private insurance companies that provide recipients with a set amount of money that can be used to purchase medical equipment and pay some other medical-related expenses. The cards are only available to people enrolled in a participating Medicare Advantage Plan—and only a handful of plans offer them.
The cards are typically linked to a flexible spending account, and money is instantly taken from your account after making a purchase. You can use the card like any other credit card by choosing the “credit” option on the terminal as there are no transaction fees of PINs to remember.
Although Medicare flex cards can help to supplement income, Licensed Health and Life Insurance Broker Katrice Daniels suggests that potential users take a closer look before deciding whether to enroll.
“Before you run out and sign up with the first plan that offers the cards, you want to make sure the plan will be medically and financially beneficial for you,” Daniels said.
She suggested potential users ask themselves the following questions before choosing flex cards: Does your current primary care doctor accept the plan you are considering switching to? How much will you have to pay for your out-of-pocket expenses? Can you afford that? Is your current plan less expensive?
“While the flex cards are an enticing benefit and [do] provide some value, it isn’t enough to make a switch, especially if all of your medical needs are currently covered,” Daniels said.
The cards can be used to pay for “qualified” medical expenses, such as:
- Medical equipment
- Prescription medications and over-the-counter medicines
- Dental, vision and hearing care services
- Diagnostic tests
- Other expenses (as your particular plan allows)
Despite the simplicity of their use, these cards nevertheless remain mired in myth and misconceptions.
Misconceptions about Medicare flex cards
Much of the advertising about Medicare flex cards boasts that recipients can enjoy a starting balance of up to $2,880 in their accounts. This large of a sum is rare; in reality, the average amount for flex cards in 2022 was $500.
And while many of the companies want to make consumers believe the cards are an added bonus, the truth is that enrollees will pay for that extra benefit through higher premiums to the Medicare Advantage plan offering the card.
In addition, not every older adult will be eligible for a Medicare flex card. Your loved one must first be enrolled in an insurance plan that includes the flexible spending account option (be aware that most do not). The cards are usually associated with Medicare Advantage Plans, so check your plan and do your research before enrolling.
Finally, some advertising is potentially misleading about the types of purchases that can be made with the flex cards. Some commercials seem to imply you can use the money for gas, clothing, groceries and more, but your loved one’s physician would have to declare these items were “medically necessary” before they would be eligible for purchase.
Do your research
Despite the confusion in the marketplace, Medicare Advantage Plans offering a Medicare flex card may be a helpful benefit for your loved one’s particular situation. As you approach open enrollment, just be sure to weigh all aspects of each plan you consider before making a decision, and contact the insurer to make sure the flex card is offered in your area. When in doubt, reach out to a Medicare counselor for assistance!