Does Medicare Offer Grocery Supplements?

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Grocery supplement programs aim to make healthy food more affordable for individuals with limited incomes. While many of these programs are operated by state government agencies, there are grocery allowances associated with some health insurance plans. If you’re wondering whether Medicare offers grocery supplements, here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Grocery Supplement?

A grocery supplement — also known as a grocery allowance or healthy foods benefit — is part of a healthcare program that makes nutritious food more accessible and affordable. Essentially, qualifying enrollees will have access to a set financial sum each month or quarter, and they can use the provided money to pay for specific costs, such as healthy food and some other select products, like over-the-counter medication.

In some cases, enrollees may also have access to meal-delivery supplements. Usually, this is a time-limited benefit designed to make it easier to obtain healthy foods while recovering from a hospital stay or transitioning out of a skilled nursing facility.

How Do Grocery Allowances Work?

Grocery allowances through Medicare plans are relatively straightforward. Typically, the designated amount of money is provided on a prepaid debit card that’s usable at specific stores and can only be used to purchase particular items, primarily healthy foods. For example, a person can use it to buy fresh produce, dairy products, meats, and pantry staples, but they can’t purchase alcohol, desserts, processed foods, or similar items using the benefit.

At the point of purchase, a person swipes the benefit card just as they would with a traditional debit card. Then, the total owed is reduced by the amount the grocery allowance can cover.

It is essential to note that some benefit cards are coupon-based. With these, the cashier may need to scan the card as part of the checkout process.

Finally, many grocery allowances do not roll over from month to month or quarter to quarter. As a result, any unused amount of money is functionally forfeited when the next payment period arrives.

Are Grocery Allowances Available Through Medicare?

Original Medicare doesn’t contain any kind of grocery allowance. Instead, it provides hospital insurance through Medicare Part A, medical insurance through Medicare Part B, and prescription drug coverage through Medicare Part D. None of those offerings come with any kind of grocery supplements.

However, some — but not all — Medicare Advantage plans do offer grocery allowances. These supplements usually help seniors with certain chronic health conditions pay for healthy food. The benefit is usually part of special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill (SSBCI) programs, and it’s potentially available to seniors with conditions like end-stage renal disease, diabetes, heart disease, or COPD.

The grocery allowance benefit may also include meal-delivery services for those with specific needs. For example, it may be available to seniors returning home and recovering after a hospital stay.

Finding Plans With Grocery Supplements 

First, it’s critical to note that grocery allowances aren’t commonly available from regular Medicare Advantage plans. While the benefit is more likely to be included in Special Needs Plans, it’s still not universal.

Generally, you’ll want to look for Medicare Advantage plans with a food allowance component. That can include programs labeled as SSBCI plans, as well as dual eligible special needs plans (D-SNPs) and chronic condition special needs plans (C-SNPs).

Additionally, you want to review the rules regarding who’s eligible for the grocery supplements. Typically, being diagnosed with a specific chronic condition is required for the monthly or quarterly grocery allowance, and which ones qualify can vary from one insurer to the next. As a result, it’s best to read plan details or speak with insurers to see if you’re eligible.