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Does Medicare offer a grocery allowance?

En español

No, original Medicare doesn’t offer a grocery allowance, but some private Medicare Advantage plans do, including some Special Needs Plans (SNPs).

Grocery allowances help pay for healthy food for people with chronic health conditions. 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.

This coverage hasn’t always been in place.

2019 expansion. Medicare Advantage began offering additional supplemental benefits that relate primarily to health, such as meal delivery after a hospital stay or transportation to doctor appointments.

2020 expansion. Extra benefits — those not primarily related to health — started being offered for participants with chronic conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, end-stage renal disease and heart disease. These are called special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill (SSBCI).

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, also known as a healthy foods benefit, is an SSBCI benefit available only to Medicare Advantage members with certain chronic conditions. Some Medicare Advantage plans designed specifically for people who have both Medicare and Medicaid also offer these benefits. Some plans also offer expanded meal benefits.

Medicare Advantage plans typically issue grocery allowances through prepaid debit cards, also called flex cards, often monthly or quarterly. 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 Special Needs Plans 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 were in operation throughout the country, an 11 percent increase from 2022, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

These benefits are available only to certain people in Medicare Advantage plans. Before choosing a plan that offers these benefits, find out if you’re eligible.

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 special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill that are available only to people with certain chronic conditions, a meal benefit is available to any Medicare Advantage plan member who meets different criteria. To qualify, you must need meal benefits for a limited time, usually up to four weeks, immediately after an inpatient hospital or skilled nursing facility stay because of an illness. Physicians, discharge nurses or care coordinators order meal benefits, usually a meal delivery service, following a hospital or skilled nursing facility stay.

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

Not all Medicare Advantage plans offer this assistance. The Kaiser Family Foundation 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, it’s a scam.

These benefits are available only from some Medicare Advantage plans. You must meet eligibility requirements before receiving them, they aren’t issued automatically, and they aren’t part of original Medicare. 

And even Medicare Advantage plans that offer grocery benefits don’t give them to all participants. Before choosing a Medicare Advantage plan because you like the idea of a grocery benefit, find out more about the criteria for qualifying.

Published March 24, 2023



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