If you’ve seen advertisements for Medicare ‘flex cards,’ the additional benefits for health-related services may have piqued your interest.
It’s crucial to realize that traditional Medicare does not issue these debit cards, also known as flexible benefits cards, and that the federal government is not involved.
Instead, certain private Medicare insurers managing Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans offer them.
Medicare flex cards, which may go by various names depending on the insurer, allow enrollees to use a specific dollar amount for services such as over-the-counter drugs, eyeglasses, non-medical transportation, and, in some cases, even certain groceries.
However, not all Medicare Advantage plans offer flex cards, and the eligibility criteria, dollar amounts, and allowable purchases can vary widely based on the plan and location.
For instance, United Health Care offers the UCard, which combines a member ID card with access to rewards, gym membership, and credits for over-the-counter products included in the plan.
Enrollees can use the flex card to contribute to the costs of items like hearing aids, eyeglasses, or health-related products at participating locations.
Anthem, another major insurer, provides a quarterly ‘spending allowance’ depending on the plan and member eligibility.
Beneficiaries can use the flex card for everyday purchases like toothpaste and vitamins, assistive devices like grab bars or shower stools, service dog support, or healthy groceries like fruits and vegetables.
Some Anthem plans even allow the flex card to cover utilities or sports facility fees.
Navigating Medicare Flex Cards: Eligibility, Limits, and How to Get One
How Medicare Flex Cards Work:
- Eligibility and Limits: Not everyone enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan will qualify for a flex card, and individuals enrolled in traditional Medicare cannot access one.
Spending limits and rules vary by program, insurer, special needs or chronic illness status, geographical location, and dual-eligibility (Medicare and Medicaid).
- Types of Flex Card Approaches: There are generally two types of flex card approaches:
- Annual Benefit: Some plans provide a yearly “allowance” for preapproved items or services. For example, if your program offers a $1,500 benefit, that’s your spending limit for the year.
- Installments: Money may be added to your card throughout the year, either monthly or quarterly.
- Participating Retailers: Not all stores or healthcare professionals may accept a flex card.
Most plans maintain a list of participating retailers, including pharmacies, grocery stores, and third-party providers like dentists and opticians.
How to Get a Medicare Flex Card:
If your current plan does not offer this benefit and you want one, consider changing plans. Here’s how:
- Search for available Medicare Advantage plans in your area.
- Check whether they provide the flex card program and if you meet the eligibility requirements.
- Make annual changes during Medicare Advantage open enrollment from January 1 through March 31.
However, before making any changes, compare other costs associated with different plans carefully.
While flex cards can help cover everyday health expenses, there may be trade-offs, such as higher copays, doctor changes, or the forfeiture of other benefits.
Be cautious of misleading advertising, as monetary limits may be lower than advertised, and the range of items that can be purchased may be limited.
Furthermore, unused benefits do not roll over to the following year.
These additional benefits are relatively new, with only about one-third of Medicare Advantage companies offering them in 2022. It’s important to note that traditional Medicare and supplemental Medigap plans do not provide these perks.
When choosing a Medicare plan, weigh the pros and cons carefully, and now you can add “flex cards” to your list of considerations.
Source: Fortune via Yahoo News