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Monique Curet
By Monique Curet January 12, 2022

Medicare ‘flex cards’ are not as advertised

If Your Time is short

Medicare, the federal health insurance program for senior citizens and those with disabilities, does not provide flex cards.

Private insurance companies that sell certain Medicare plans are allowed to offer customers a prepaid debit card. The cards are available in some areas, monetary limits are often much lower than advertisements indicate, and what can be purchased with them is also limited. 

A social media post hawking a card that provides free groceries and prescriptions for senior citizens is evidence of the old adage: When something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The Facebook post says, "​​As an American over 65, I qualified for the ‘Elderly Spend Card,’ which pays for my groceries, my dental, and my prescription refills. All I did to qualify, was tap the image below, entered my zip and I got my flex card in the mail a week later!" The post includes a photo of a large pile of groceries.

Clicking the link on the post brings users to a website that says, "Seniors can get their ‘Medicare Flex Card’ for a limited time," with a photo of a debit card. "Qualify (sic) seniors can spend up to $2,880 each year for medical appointments, prescriptions and more."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Without more context, this is misleading.

Though the post implies that anyone over 65 is eligible for such a card, Medicare — the federal health insurance program for senior citizens and those with disabilities — does not provide the cards. Private insurance companies that sell certain plans, called Medicare Advantage, are allowed to offer customers a prepaid debit card, sometimes referred to as flex cards.

The cards are available only in some areas, the monetary limits are often much lower than social media advertisement indicates, and what can be purchased with them is also limited.

"Medicare Advantage plans may utilize a debit card as a tool in administering supplemental benefits and/or to reduce enrollee cost sharing on covered benefits," a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said. "Plans sometimes refer to these debit cards as ‘FlexCards.’ Plan enrollees may use a plan provided debit card with a set dollar limit to pay for covered supplemental benefits and/or out-of-pocket expenses, such as copays or coinsurance."

One insurance brokerage that sells Medicare plans wrote in a blog post, "Truthfully, Medicare is not distributing flex cards. Thus, it is not a government-run program for seniors." The blog notes that the cards are distributed by private Medicare Advantage plans and says they "are not available in every state and are not available with every carrier."

Beginning in 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services allowed private insurers to add a "new benefit facilitated through a debit card that would allow enrollees to use a dollar amount for specific primarily health related services (e.g., copays, OTC drugs, eyeglasses)," according to guidance from the agency.

Contrary to the Facebook post’s claim about using the debit card to purchase groceries, the agency’s guidance indicates that only the chronically ill qualify to use the cards for items such as food and produce.

Media coverage has indicated that the cards usually offer much lower monetary limits than the post suggests, and are available to a limited group of people.

For example, Aetna offers a flex card with a maximum annual benefit for $400, and it’s available only to "select" plans in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, according to a press release. Similarly, Humana is offering a $250 debit card "to members of some Florida plans," according to a press release.

Our ruling

A Facebook post says that senior citizens can get a Medicare "flex card" that pays for groceries and prescriptions.

The cards are not provided by Medicare. They are offered as a benefit to some customers by private insurance companies that sell Medicare Advantage plans.

The cards are available in limited geographic areas. They cannot be used by everyone to purchase groceries; the scope of what can be purchased by whom is limited.

We rate this claim Mostly False. 

 

Our Sources

CBS17, "Medicare Flex cards feature misleading ads," Dec. 14, 2021

CVS Health, "Aetna 2022 Medicare plans feature more benefits, lower member costs and greater affordability," Oct. 1, 2021

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, "Understand Medicare Advantage Plans," November 2020

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, "Updated Guidance for Medicare Advantage Organizations," May 13, 2020

Email interview, Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, spokesperson, Jan. 11, 2022

Facebook post, Jan. 4, 2022

Humana, "Humana Expanding Medicare Advantage Health Plans in 2022 to Address Beneficiaries’ Most Important Needs, Delivering Predictable, Affordable and Understandable Health Care," Oct. 1, 2021

MedicareFAQ.com, "Does Medicare Have a Flex Card for Seniors," Jan. 7, 2022

Verify, "No, Medicare is not offering a free flex card," Dec. 3, 2021



 

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