Elderly people walk inside a retirement community in Pompano Beach, Florida on March 21, 2020 ( AFP / Chandan Khanna)

Misleading 'Medicare flex card' ads target seniors on Facebook

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

Facebook posts advertise a "Medicare Flex Card" that seniors can use to pay for expenses such as groceries. But the cards are not provided through Medicare -- the US insurance program for people 65 and older -- and experts say that such ads should be approached with caution, warning that some exaggerate eligibility and benefits.

"Last Day To Claim $2,880 Medicare Flex Card. Last Day To Register For 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!" says a January 12, 2022 Facebook post.

A screenshot of a Facebook post taken on January 18, 2022

    

The post is part of a series of similar advertisements on Facebook that link to privately run pages that are not affiliated with Medicare.

But the cards are not offered directly by Medicare, and a search for "flex card" on its official website returned no results.

"Such ads are misleading, at best, in that they often promise things that, in theory, might be available to some Medicare beneficiaries, but certainly not all," David Lipschutz, associate director and senior policy attorney at the non-profit Center for Medicare Advocacy, told AFP. 

The ads appear to be from third-party marketing organizations that "attempt to lure people in and connect them with insurance agents who sell Medicare plans," he said.

"We know that CMS (the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) has received more complaints about such ads, and is trying to crack down, in some ways,"  Lipschutz added.

CMS did not reply to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), also warned against exaggerations in flex card ads.

"These types of posts make it appear as if Medicare is offering free money to beneficiaries to pay for food, but that is not the case. Medicare will not provide this type of benefit," she said.

Some private Medicare Advantage Plans -- Medicare-approved private insurance plans that may charge premiums -- offer these types of benefits within certain memberships to a limited group of people, such as grocery allowance cards for specific, healthful food items or meal deliveries under certain conditions.

But "it is important to research the company and offers that sound too good to be true," Nofziger said.