Is the U.S. government's Medicare program providing "flex cards" to qualified seniors that allow them to spend up to $2,800 a year? No, that's not true: Flex cards -- attached to a flexible spending account with money put aside for specific expenses such as medical costs -- are not a part of the Medicare program. Many advertisements promoting these flex cards make it sound as if the flex card is a government benefit or stimulus.
Some private insurance companies do offer a prepaid "flex card" to Medicare Advantage plan members in specific locations to cover specific expenses, but they must qualify and they must enroll in that private company's plan to receive that flex card. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by Medicare-approved private companies and may have a higher monthly premium. At best, these misleading ads are using the promise of a flex card as an incentive to get Medicare recipients to sign up for Medicare Advantage plans with private companies.
Ads and posts encouraging people to determine whether they qualify for a "flex card benefit" have been circulating on Facebook since at least August 2021. One example is an ad from the Facebook page "Savings Solutions" that began running on January 12, 2022. It links to a webpage, hugediscount.life (archived here). The ad reads:
Last Day To Register For (𝟔𝟓-𝟖𝟎 𝐀𝐠𝐞 𝐆𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐩) Seniors on Medicare!! Claim Your Flex Card And Use It For Groceries For The Rest Of 2021 And All Of 2022 Before The Deadline Ends! This Program Has Helped Thousands Of Seniors And It Can Help You Too!
The Best Part You Don't Have To Leave Your Home, It Can Be Brought Right To Your Doorstep When You Need It...
The text on the website says:
New "Flex Card" Medicare Benefit
Seniors can get their "Medicare Flex Card" for a limited time. Qualify [sic] Seniors Can Spend up to $2,880 each year for medical appointments prescriptions and more.
Tap Below To Call & Qualify!
This is how the ad and the website appeared at the time of writing:
Lead Stories reached out by email to the public affairs office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to inquire about the flex cards and if they a re available through Medicare. A CMS spokesperson responded on January 13, 2022, and explained that they are associated with Medicare Advantage plans:
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. Plans sometimes refer to these debit cards as FlexCards. Enrollees can use the FlexCard to pay for supplemental benefits and out-of-pocket expenses, such as copays or coinsurance. Plans can change their coverage offerings every year. Consumers are encouraged to regularly review the benefits offered to make sure their Medicare Advantage plan continue meet their needs.
The official U.S. government Medicare handbook, "Medicare & You," is available as a 128-page pdf document. In Section 4 on page 61, the guide explains what Medicare advantage plans are:
A Medicare Advantage Plan is another way to get your Medicare Part A and Part B coverage. Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called 'Part C' or 'MA Plans,' are offered by Medicare-approved private companies that must follow rules set by Medicare.
Senior citizens do not need to share their phone number and contact information on an unfamiliar website to find out what benefits they may qualify for. On page 117 in the handbook is a list with contact number for each State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) Their role is described this way:
SHIPs are state programs that get money from the federal government to give local health insurance counseling to people with Medicare at no cost to you. SHIPs aren't connected to any insurance company or health plan. SHIP staff and trained volunteers work hard to help you with these and other Medicare questions:
• Your Medicare rights.
• Billing problems.
• Complaints about your medical care or treatment.
• Plan comparison and enrollment.
• How Medicare works with other insurance.
• Finding help paying for health care costs.
As for that ad: The page transparency of the Facebook page "Savings Solutions" shows a page manager in India. The page was created on September 15, 2020, and originally posted photos of puppies and kittens. The "Savings Solutions" page has not published a public post since November 6, 2020, but has been used to run flex card ads as sponsored posts on Facebook.
The 80-day-old website hugediscount.life has a few red flags. It is registered using a privacy service, which in itself is not unusual, but the physical address listed on the website's contact us page: "3211 Lady Bug Drive New York, NY" does not appear to be a real physical address in New York. Several similar websites are using the same address on a "contact us" page of identical design (here and here). The homepage has some spelling errors and the "about" page refers to a company not previously encountered, Consumer Daily. The text of the hugediscount.life about page matches that of consumerdaily.com, which published financial blog articles before May 2020. The about pages on both websites read:
Consumer Daily has a mission to save you money and time!
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Consumer Daily is not... Consumer Daily is not an insurer, credit card company or even a bank. Consumer Daily is... Consumer Daily is an information organizer. We have tools and guides. We also provides links to other companies that may be able to help you save money.