Getting the Medicare Grocery Allowance

Person delivers basket of groceries to senior at their home.As people age, accessing healthy meals can become more challenging. According to Feeding America, one in five older adults was food-insecure in 2020. Some older adults struggle with affording healthy foods. Others have difficulty going to the grocery store and preparing meals when recovering from an illness or injury.

For seniors aged 65 and older across the United States, Medicare serves as a federal health insurance program. If you are a senior who has enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B (known as original or traditional Medicare), you may then also enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan. Note that, although original Medicare does not offer food benefits, some Medicare Advantage plans do provide a grocery allowance or cover meal delivery. Some of these programs may also include nutrition education and cooking classes.

Certain Medicare Advantage plans may provide Medicare Part C food benefits in addition to Part A hospital, Part B medical, and Part D prescription drug coverage. They may also supply vision, dental, and hearing coverage. The Medicare Advantage plans available to you depend on your state.

Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage differs from traditional Medicare, as private companies contract with Medicare to offer Medicare Advantage plans. Those interested in enrolling in this type of plan (also known as Medicare Part C) could benefit from consulting with an elder law attorney first. Plans vary, and finding insurance that fits your unique needs is essential.

Note that, to qualify for a Medicare Advantage plan, you must:

  • be eligible for Medicare Parts A and B
  • be at least 65 years old or have a qualifying disability
  • have paid taxes into the Medicare trust funds through your employment or a spouse's work

Potential enrollees should also be wary of predatory marketing practices and evaluate their options before committing to a plan. Even if you qualify for a Medicare Advantage plan with food benefits, traditional Medicare could be a better option for you, depending on your circumstances.

Special Needs Plans

Special needs plans (SNPs), which tailor membership to Medicare recipients who meet specific criteria, offer grocery and meal benefits options.

Qualifying for grocery benefits through a special needs plan generally requires an individual to have a qualifying health condition. Examples of conditions that can qualify a person for Medicare Advantage food benefits include diabetes, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, end-stage renal disease, arthritis, an autoimmune disorder, and obesity.

Medicare Food Allowance Card

When Medicare Advantage health plans have grocery benefits, they typically give enrollees a kind of prepaid debit card that they can use to check out at approved stores like Kroger and Walmart.

The Medicare food allowance benefit will typically only cover qualifying whole food items such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, meat, and dairy. You can use the card only to purchase healthy food that is included in the coverage. Pantry staples and water may also be part of the benefit, depending on the plan. Enrollees must pay out of pocket for soda, baked goods, and processed foods like chips.

Note that some Medicare Advantage plans offer similar debit cards for other uses, for paying for such things as prescription drugs or eyeglasses. Consult with your specific plan to ensure you understand the rules for your card.

Meal Delivery Services

Instead of Medicare grocery benefits, some Medicare Advantage plans offer coverage for meal delivery services. Meal delivery services can benefit those who face challenges getting to the grocery store and preparing meals. A service must meet Medicare’s nutritional guidelines for Medicare Advantage to cover it.

Many Medicare Advantage plans only supply meal delivery for a set period. This type of plan can suit those discharged from a hospital or skilled nursing facility who only need help with meals for a certain amount of time.

Less common is long-term meal delivery coverage for those homebound with chronic medical conditions.

Other Meal Delivery Options

Some older adults may do not qualify for a special needs program with meal benefits. Others do not elect to enroll in original Medicare. For them, alternative meal resources are available.

  • Meals on Wheels is a federally funded meal delivery program for people aged 60 and older. You must meet eligibility criteria specific to plans in your area.
  • You use the Administration for Community Living’s Elder Care Locator to find meal delivery organizations.

Work With an Elder Law Attorney

Before selecting a Medicare Advantage program with grocery or meal benefits, consider consulting an elder law attorney. They can help you navigate your various Medicare-related options and decide on the plan that is best for your needs. Find a qualified elder law attorney near you today.

For additional information about Medicare, check out the following articles: