Have you seen the commercials for the Medicare flex card? They make it sound like it’s the answer to your healthcare needs and financial requirements. However, how much of that information is the truth and how much is just marketing spin?
The truth is that the Medicare flex card is a real thing. It just might not live up to your expectations if you’re basing them on TV commercials.
What Is a Medicare Flex Card?
Let’s start with the basics. What’s a flex card? It’s really nothing more than a debit card, which you’re probably already familiar with. However, instead of being tied to your checking account, it’s attached to one of three other types of accounts:
- A flexible spending account, or FSA
- A health savings account, or HSA
- A healthcare reimbursement account, or HRA
How Does a Flex Card Work?
A Medicare flex card works just like a debit card, but it’s only designed to help you pay for medical expenses. You won’t be using yours to buy groceries or to put gas in the fuel tank. Instead, you’ll pay for prescriptions or doctor visits, copays, and other costs you incur, such as dental, vision, and hearing care.
In most cases, flex cards come pre-loaded from the insurance carrier. You have a specific amount of money available, and it won’t be reloaded until a particular time, which is usually once per year.
Important Things to Remember about Flex Cards
While flex cards are incredibly easy to use, there are some important things that you need to bear in mind.
- They’re not issued by Medicare. That means they’re not tied to your Medicare plan, and they’re not backed by any guarantee from the federal government. This also means that if someone claims that their card is issued by Medicare, be wary, as it’s usually a tip-off that you’re dealing with a scammer.
- You must be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan to receive a Medicare flex card. If you’re not enrolled in such a plan, you are out of luck. Don’t believe anyone who says that you can get a flex card without being enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan.
- You’ll be issued around $500. While the amount you’re issued depends on your specific plan, most people see roughly $500. If someone claims they will load $1,000, $2,000, or even $3,000 on your card, be suspicious. Amounts like this are exceedingly rare, particularly amounts higher than $1,000.
- You will need to track your spending. The issuer should give you access to an online portal that allows you to track the balance remaining on your card and delve into past expenses to make sure that everything is legitimate.
Using Your Medicare Flex Card
Wondering how to use your flex card? It’s as simple as you might think. Just swipe the card at your medical provider’s office or pharmacy and the transaction will be processed electronically, just like if you were using a debit card or credit card. That’s because, like your debit or credit card, they’re part of either the Visa or MasterCard network.
Note that you will not have a PIN, so you’ll need to run it as a credit card, instead of a debit card. When the transaction processes, just sign the receipt or the scanner screen and you’re done.
What Can You Use Your Flex Card For?
Your flex card is only usable for qualifying medical expenses as defined by the IRS. Those can include but are not limited to the following:
- Eye exams and glasses
- Dental cleanings and other treatments
- Doctor’s office visits
- Medical equipment
- First aid equipment/supplies
- Diagnostic devices
- Prescription medications
- Over-the-counter medications
Not sure if your specific expense qualifies under IRS rules? You’ll need to check your plan details. They should give you a detailed list of which expenses are covered, and which ones are not.
What Happens with Expenses That Do Not Qualify?
Just because some expenses don’t qualify under the IRS rules, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use your flex card. This opens the possibility that you might inadvertently use the card to purchase an item or service or pay a bill that isn’t qualified. What happens in that case?
If that happens, there are a couple of potential outcomes:
- You may be required to repay the amount to your flex spending account.
- You may have tax penalties to deal with at the end of the year.
The best defense is to know precisely what qualifies under your plan. Your carrier should be able to provide you with that information. You also need to keep your receipts and other documentation so that you can track all your expenses and show the records if necessary.
Who Qualifies for a Medicare Flex Card?
Anyone who qualifies for a Medicare Advantage plan can also qualify for a flex card, but there are a couple of caveats to understand here.
- Medicare Qualifications – First, you’ll need to meet all the Medicare Advantage enrollment requirements, including:
- You must be at least 65.
- You must be a US citizen or permanent resident for at least five years.
- You may qualify if you have received Social Security disability benefits for 24 months.
- Those under 65 but with a diagnosis of ALS or ESRD may be able to qualify for Medicare Advantage, as well.
- Your Plan – Not all Medicare Advantage plans offer flex cards, so your first challenge will be to contact the issuer to ensure that a flex card is offered. If not, you’ll need to consider changing plans. This is a complicated decision and is not a process that you should rush into without help to make sure that you choose a plan that’s best for your needs.
- Original Medicare Enrollment – Are you already enrolled in Original Medicare but want to take advantage of the flex card option? You’ll need to switch to a Medicare Advantage plan, but this can only be done during the open enrollment period each year.
- Use the Medicare Plan Locator – You’ll find that Medicare Advantage plan availability varies greatly by geography. Use the Medical Plan Locator at Medicare.gov to explore the plans available to you and then determine which ones offer a flex card.
Consider a Medicare Advantage Plan that Offers a Flex Card
When it’s all said and done, signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan that offers a Medicare flex card could be a great idea. It may offer you some much-needed financial flexibility when it comes to paying for your healthcare-related costs. However, it’s important to go into the process with your eyes open.
Remember that, on average, most flex cards are loaded with around $500. You’re also limited to using it for qualifying healthcare-related expenses and purchasing items or services that don’t qualify could mean dealing with tax penalties and/or repaying the amount spent.
You may also need to change your Medicare Advantage plan, which will require working with your Personal Benefits Manager. These no-cost experts help you make sound, informed decisions that ensure you’re able to afford your healthcare and live the life you want.
Schedule a chat with one of our Personal Benefits Managers to learn more about your options.
Tom Lockwood is a Personal Benefits Manager at MediGap Advisors. Tom has a passion for bringing clarity to those confused about Medicare. He is an authority on Medicare, Medicare supplement plans, Medicare Advantage plans, and Part D prescription drug plans. Read more about Tom on his Bio page.