Anyone paying attention can’t escape the mountain of advertisements about extra Medicare benefits. While it’s true that some Medicare plan options will offer these supplemental benefits, not every plan will include them. These additional benefits, such as utility cards, will vary depending on where you live.

It’s important not to get too hung up on these extra benefits as a few things need to occur for them to make sense. First, there not available in all areas, and second, what good would a $50 utility assistance card do you if the plan doesn’t cover your other needs?

Below we’re going to look at the different utility cards, also called flex cards, that Medicare beneficiaries could benefit from by enrolling in a Medicare plan that includes these extra benefits.

Medicare Advantage Utility Cards

Many Medicare plans now offer Utility cards. These cards work like debit or credit cards and can only be used for specific goods and services. Different plans have different rules, and their cards may cover different items. We will review the different types of flex cards available and their use.

Private insurance companies with a Medicare contract administer Medicare Advantage plans. Medicare rates the performance of Medicare Advantage plans with a star rating system. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulate these plans and ensure they follow the required rules and guidelines.

What is a Utility Card?

Some plans provide a reloadable debit card to purchase various items and services. These cards are considered plan extras for many Medicare Advantage plans nationwide. As mentioned above, plan extras are not the same from plan to plan, and your available benefits can vary.

Using a Utility Card

Suppose your Medicare Advantage plan offers a flexible debit card. In that case, you’ll need to review the benefits to see where you can use the card. Your plan will provide you with information to show you what you can buy and what stores participate.

You can only use your flexible debit card for specific items. Some items you may be able to use your flex card benefit on are below.

  • Medicare cost-sharing
  • Out-of-Pocket Costs
  • Copays
  • Deductibles
  • Coinsurance
  • Drugs
  • Prescription Medications
  • Over-the-Counter Medications
  • Dental Costs
  • Vision Costs
  • Hearing Costs
  • Medical Equipment
  • Diagnostic Devices
  • Durable Medical Equipement
  • Healthy Food
  • Over-the-Counter Items
  • Utility Payments
  • Cash Withdraws
  • Telehealth Copays
  • Office Visits

Remember, insurance carriers and service areas may purchase different items their cards can buy. You shouldn’t assume that every item can be used with your card.

Utility Debit Cards

Some carriers may lump utility assistance in with their cash debit card or over-the-counter allowance. However, most insurance companies that offer this benefit will have it broken down into different benefits. Utility assistance is a relatively new plan extra being offered.

Currently, it’s only available on the Dual Special Needs Plans. These plans contain specific benefits for Medicare beneficiaries will low income.
Medicare beneficiaries can use this benefit for utilities such as:

  • Electric
  • Gas
  • Sanitary
  • Water Utilities
  • Landline telephone service
  • Cable TV service
  • Certain petroleum expenses

Despite this broken out to a separate benefit, your utility allowance will be loaded on your flex card if you qualify.

Over-the-Counter Debit Cards

Most insurance companies don’t provide a card for over-the-counter items. Suppose you’re Medicare Advantage plan doesn’t offer a debit card for these items.

In that case, you must use your over-the-counter (OTC) allowance to purchase qualified items from their online pharmacy. In this case, they will be shipped directly to you.

However, some insurance companies provide you with a debit card to buy select items. Both UnitedHealthcare and Wellcare offer an over-the-counter benefit card.

With most AARP Unitedhealthcare plans, you can use your entire over-the-counter allowance on either over-the-counter items, health foods, or a combination of both.

Flex Card for Dental, Vision, and Hearing Benefits

Some insurance carriers like Aetna offer flex cards specifically to help pay for costs related to dental, vision, and hearing services. These plans provide an annual amount that can be used to pay for copays and other expenses related to their dental, vision, and hearing benefits.

Cash Debit Cards

Other insurance companies offer a cash card. These are typically unique to plan members enrolled in a D-SNP plan. These cases give a monthly allowance of $50 for qualifying items and services.

This card can be used for groceries, utilities, housing, transportation, and health-related items and services. Some companies that offer these cash cards will allow you to withdraw cash from an ATM.

A few insurance carriers that enable utility assistance are Wellcare, Optimum, and Simply Healthcare.

Medicare Coverage for Utility Cards

Coverage from Original Medicare is particular to medically necessary hospital and outpatient medical services. Original Medicare doesn’t offer access to a flex card or additional benefits.

Likewise, Medicare Supplement health plans won’t provide these items either. Medigap health insurance only covers items and services that are covered by Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B.

Suppose you want to enroll in a flexible debit card benefit plan. In that case, you’ll need to enroll with Medicare Part C. These Medicare Advantage plans cover all the benefits required by Original Medicare. In addition, they provide plan extras and even include your Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Medicare Advantage plans are typically PPO or HMO plans. With an HMO, you must receive coverage from in-network providers unless there is an emergency. These plans will have a primary care doctor that manages your healthcare.

PPO plans provide coverage for both in and out-of-network services. You can expect to pay more when using out-of-network services. Both HMO and PPO plans can include your Medicare Part D drug plan.

FAQs

Does Medicare have a debit card?

There isn’t a debit card benefit that’s provided with Original Medicare. However, some Medicare Advantage plans offer plan extras that include a debit card.

What is the Utility card from Medicare?

Medicare itself doesn’t offer a flex card benefit. Medicare Advantage plans can provide flex cards are a plan extra. These cards can be used to purchase specific items approved by the program. Each plan’s benefits will be different. Check your benefits summary, coverage evidence, and other plan materials to determine how your flex card can be used.

How does the Medicare Advantage flex card work?

These flex cards work like credit or debit cards and can be used for specific plan-approved items and services. The plans will have a benefit period of either one month or three months. The card is automatically reloaded when the new benefit period begins. For most programs, the benefit won’t roll over, so it becomes a use it or lose it benefit for most beneficiaries.

How do seniors get a Utility card?

To get a Utility card, you must live in the coverage area of a plan that offers the benefit and be active with Medicare Part A and Part B. Then, you must enroll in the Medicare Advantage plan that provides the flex card. Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans can only occur during a valid enrollment period.

What are the benefits of the Medicare Advantage Utility card?

The benefits will vary depending on the program you choose. Flex cards can be used for various reasons, including over-the-counter purchases, utility payments, healthy food, etc. Check your plan materials for information on which items and services can be used with your flexible debit card.

What is the difference between a flex card and a debit card?

These are pretty much two names for the same thing. Medicare Advantage plans can have different names for their benefits. Most of these debit cards are administered through Visa.

Where can I use my Medicare Advantage flex card?

The participating locations will vary depending on the insurance carrier you choose. Still, some participating retail stores include CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Rite Aid.

How much does the Medicare Advantage utility debit card cost?

The debit card doesn’t have a cost for you unless your Medicare Advantage plan has an additional premium to Medicare Part B. Most plans that offer a debit card that can be used for utilities will provide that benefit on one of their D-SNP plans. Most of these Dual special needs plans will be an HMO. However, some states and carriers will give a D-SNP as a PPO.

When can I enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan?

Medicare Advantage plans are annual contracted plans. You can only enroll or make changes when there is a specific enrollment period. The annual enrollment period is the most well-known, occurring from October 15 to December 7.

Do any Medicare Supplement plans offer a flex card?

No. Medicare Supplement plans are additional coverage that pays after Medicare pays its portion. These plans only cover the benefits that are provided with Original Medicare. Since the flex card isn’t a benefit covered by Medicare Part A or Part B, a Medicare Supplement can’t provide access.

Help Finding a Medicare Plan With a Utility Card

The fastest and easiest way to find out about the flex card benefits in your area is to work with a licensed insurance broker. They can review all the plans in the area for their debit card benefit, check the coverage for your prescriptions, and determine which plans your healthcare providers take.

After that, it’s the simple process of choosing the plan that fits your needs and completing the enrollment. For Assitance, give us a call or fill out our online request form. We’ll be glad to make this process quick and easy.

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by Lindsay Malzone, Lindsay Malzone is the Medicare editor for Medigap.com. She's been contributing to many well-known publications since 2017. Her passion is educating Medicare beneficiaries on all their supplemental Medicare options so they can make an informed decision on their healthcare coverage.