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What is a Medicare flex card?

Even though it is called a Medicare flex card, this prepaid debit card is issued by Medicare Advantage plans, not the U.S. government. It’s offered through some — not all — private Medicare Advantage plans to help pay for specific expenses, such as over-the-counter (OTC) medications, a grocery allowance for healthy food purchases, and copayments for dental, hearing and vision care.

The stand-alone card is different than your Medicare card or health insurance card from Medicare Advantage, Medigap or another health plan.

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What can I use a Medicare flex card for?

While their use varies by Medicare Advantage plan, flex cards typically contain quarterly or annual allowances for OTC medications, drugstore items, healthy food, meal delivery, transportation and other extra benefits. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 87 percent of Medicare Advantage plans cover OTC drugs and 71 percent provide a meal benefit in 2023.

Almost all Medicare Advantage plans provide some coverage for dentalhearing and vision care, while some plans use flex cards to cover copayments or certain eligible expenses with an annual dollar limit, such as $225 for eyeglasses and contact lenses.

How does a Medicare flex card work?

Like prepaid debit cards, flex cards are loaded with a predetermined amount to cover expenses within a specified time. But they also come with rules on what the money can be used for.

You may be able to use your flex card for OTC medications at certain pharmacies, for eyeglasses and contact lenses at select optical centers, or for copays with in-network dentists. Find out from your plan about requirements for using the card.

If you receive a quarterly allowance for OTC medicine and other drugstore items — say, $50 a quarter — scan the flex card at checkout; the money will automatically be applied to eligible items. Some flex cards work with online purchases too.

Some Medicare Advantage plans offer flex cards only to certain members, such as those with chronic conditions. In 2020, Medicare Advantage plans began offering chronically ill patients special supplemental benefits that aren’t directly tied to medicine, such as food and produce, meal delivery and nonmedical transportation.

But you need to qualify for these benefits. They’re not available to all members.

Keep in mind

The flex card is one of many benefits to consider when deciding between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. When choosing a Medicare Advantage plan, compare how the plan covers your regular medical expenses and medications, as well as its coverage for major medical issues. And find out whether the plan’s provider network covers the doctors and hospitals you want to use. 

Beware of flex card scams if someone claims to be from Medicare offering one of these cards. It could be an ID thief trying to steal your personal information.

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