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Does Medicare offer a grocery allowance?

While original Medicare doesn’t offer a grocery allowance, some private Medicare Advantage plans do, including some special needs plans (SNPs).

Grocery allowances help people with chronic health conditions pay for healthy food. Some Medicare Advantage plans also offer meal delivery for plan members after a hospital or skilled nursing facility stay without limiting that benefit to people with chronic conditions.

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This coverage hasn’t always been in place.

In 2019, Medicare Advantage expanded its coverage to offer additional supplemental benefits that relate primarily to health, such as meal delivery after a hospital stay or transportation to doctor appointments.

In 2020, Medicare Advantage again expanded coverage to offer extra benefits not primarily related to health for participants with chronic conditions. These include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, end-stage renal disease and heart disease. This coverage is called special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill (SSBCI).

KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation, identifies the most common SSBCI benefits as: 

  • Healthy food and produce allowances.
  • Meals not limited to after a hospital stay.
  • Pest control.
  • Transportation for nonmedical needs.

Not all Medicare Advantage plans offer these benefits, and they vary by plan.

How does a Medicare Advantage grocery allowance work?

The grocery allowance, or healthy foods benefit, is an SSBCI benefit available only to Medicare Advantage members with certain chronic conditions. Some MA plans designed specifically for people who have both Medicare and Medicaid offer these benefits; other MA plans offer expanded meal benefits.

Some Medicare Advantage plans issue grocery allowances through prepaid debit cards, or flex cards, typically on a monthly or quarterly basis. In addition to healthy food and produce, the cards may cover over-the-counter medicine and products from participating grocery stores, drugstores and other retailers.

Those on special needs plans have a greater chance of getting grocery allowances. Medicare Advantage SNPs provide specialized benefits for people with certain chronic conditions or for those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. Some offer transportation, in-home support services and grocery allowances to people who qualify.

In 2023, 1,284 SNPs are operating throughout the country, an 11 percent increase from 2022, according to KFF.

Not all Medicare Advantage plans offer a grocery allowance, so find out if you’re eligible before choosing a plan that offers these benefits.

What is a Medicare Advantage meal benefit?

A meal benefit is a separate health-related benefit available to a broader group of people. Rather than SSBCI benefits, a meal benefit is available to any Medicare Advantage plan member who meets specific criteria. To qualify, you must need meal benefits for a limited time, usually up to four weeks, such as immediately after an inpatient hospital or skilled nursing facility stay.

Physicians, discharge nurses or care coordinators order meal benefits, usually a meal delivery service, following a hospital or skilled nursing facility stay.


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If a doctor or other provider orders it, some people with chronic conditions may be eligible for meal benefits without a hospital or skilled nursing facility stay, typically for two weeks.

As with grocery allowances, not all Medicare Advantage plans offer meal benefits. KFF reports that 71 percent of plans offer a meal benefit in 2023. Specifics vary by plan, so confirm with your plan that you qualify.

Keep in mind

If someone claims they’re from Medicare and offers you a free debit card with a grocery allowance, beware — it’s a scam. Medicare Advantage, not original Medicare, offers these benefits and you must be eligible.

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