The cost of groceries has increased dramatically over the past couple of years. Many retirees find paying for their groceries on a fixed Social Security income difficult. Healthy foods can be even more expensive, so eating a healthy diet is not financially feasible for some people. However, what if your health insurance plan helped pay for your groceries? In some cases, your Medicare plan might provide a grocery benefit that you can use to pay for those healthy foods. Eligibility and benefit amounts can vary, so you must understand how the grocery benefit works. Here is everything you need to know about the Medicare grocery benefit.
What Is The Medicare Grocery Benefit?
The Medicare grocery benefit is provided by some Medicare plans to help pay for groceries, healthy foods, and other over-the-counter items. You should be aware that original Medicare does not cover this benefit. The grocery benefit is only available through qualifying Medicare Advantage plans. Not all Advantage plans include this benefit.
The grocery benefit may be provided on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. So, you might get a certain amount of money to spend on groceries each month, or you could only get an annual allowance. Typically, your Medicare plan will provide a card for you to use at the store to pay for your qualifying items, similar to a Medicare flex card.
Some Medicare Advantage plans cover grocery delivery services or meal delivery services as well as groceries. However, there are usually more limits on these types of delivery services. Most plans only pay for delivery services during a recovery period after a hospital stay or other medical event. You should also be aware that most plans limit the use of the grocery benefit to certain grocery stores. You should check the details of your specific Medicare Advantage plan to determine where you can use your grocery benefit.
How much is the Medicare Grocery Benefit?
In 2023, the average Medicare Grocery Benefit is $150 per month. Although the cost of groceries has increased dramatically over the past few years, I’m sure you will agree that $150 per month towards this cost is still a great help.
Eligibility For Medicare’s Grocery Benefit
So, who is eligible for Medicare’s grocery benefit? Anyone eligible for Medicare could potentially get the benefit. However, you must be enrolled in the right Medicare plan. Remember that enrollment in Original Medicare will not get you access to a grocery benefit. This benefit is not something that is provided through Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B. The grocery benefit is only available through certain Medicare Part C plans. So, how do you know which ones include this benefit?
You can use the Medicare plan finder tool at Medicare.gov to look for the best Medicare Advantage plans in your area that include the grocery benefit. If this benefit is important to you, this tool can be a great way to find a plan that includes it. The Medicare Advantage plans available to you will depend on where you live. Not all plans are available everywhere. The plan finder tool will allow you to see plans available in your specific area, and you can easily compare the details and benefits of each plan. Once you sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan that includes the grocery benefit, you should receive your benefit card from your plan provider in the mail within a few weeks.
You should also know that most plans have specific rules about who can get the grocery benefit and who can’t. Most plans say that you must have a chronic condition to be eligible for the benefit. Some examples of qualifying health conditions are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, heart failure, obesity, kidney disease, end-stage renal disease, and a number of autoimmune disorders.
What Is Covered By Medicare’s Grocery Benefit?
Even if you qualify for the grocery food benefit through your Medicare Advantage plan, you will only be allowed to purchase qualifying items with your grocery benefit card. Not every item in the grocery store is eligible for purchase with your benefits. Generally, only healthy foods can be purchased with your grocery allowance. The items covered by your grocery benefit will be specific to your plan. Most insurance companies publish a list of qualifying items in their plan’s documentation. You should read this information to find out what your plan’s grocery benefit covers. However, here is a list of items covered by most plans:
- Fresh fruits
- Fresh vegetables
- Salad Kits
- Healthy grains
- Beans and legumes
- Dairy products
- Nutritional shakes
- Water and vitamin water
- Pantry staples, such as flour, sugar, and spices
- Frozen meals
- Canned vegetables and fruit
- Frozen fruit and vegetables
While this list is not exhaustive, it gives you a good idea of the items that will be covered by your grocery benefit. Again, you should check your plan’s documentation for a list of the specific items covered by your benefit.
Items That Are Not Covered By Medicare Grocery Benefits
Although your Medicare contract may cover many items through your grocery benefit, there are still a lot of food items that will not meet the eligibility requirements. You cannot simply walk into a grocery store and buy whatever you want with your Medicare food card. Remember that your health plan only pays for healthy food so that you can manage your chronic health condition. Your plan will not pay for unhealthy items or junk food. Here are some examples of items that your plan likely will not cover:
- Desserts, like cake or cookies
- Baby formula
- Non-food items
- Pet food
Since your grocery benefit is designed to be a part of your overall healthcare plan, you can understand why it cannot be used to pay for junk food. Allowing you to purchase unhealthy items with your Medicare food allowance would be counterproductive to your overall treatment. These types of foods could cause your condition to worsen, and that could end up costing your insurance company more money for additional treatments. Typically, anything not specifically included in the list of eligible items is not eligible for purchase, but you should always refer to your plan’s documentation for more details.
Regarding non-food items, those will not be covered by your grocery benefit. However, some OTC items might be covered through other benefits included with your plan. For example, a lot of people with Medicare sign up for Part D plans or Medicare Advantage plans that pay for over-the-counter medicines or medical supplies. While this benefit might be included in your plan, it is usually not included as part of the grocery benefit. It would usually be included as a separate benefit, like under your prescription drug coverage or through the Medicare Flex Card Program.
Finding A Medicare Advantage Plan That Includes Grocery Benefits
If the grocery benefit sounds like something you need, how do you find a plan that includes it? The easiest way to find a Medicare Advantage plan that includes this benefit is by using Medicare’s plan finder tool. This is an online tool that allows you to easily search for Medicare Advantage plans available in your area. Not only can you find a list of plans available in your area, but the tool also allows you to quickly and easily compare the plans. This tool makes it easy to search for plans that include specific benefits, and you can compare the benefits and costs across different plans. You can also call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 (TTY 1-877-486-2048) for more information on Medicare Advantage plans.
There are a few things you should keep in mind when looking for a Medicare Advantage plan. First, you should be aware of marketing gimmicks. Just because you may see a plan advertised on TV that claims to have incredible benefits does not mean that it will be the best plan for your situation. These plans sometimes come with high monthly premiums or may be lacking in other important benefits. Always consider the whole plan and its costs when determining whether it is right for you. You might even consider getting the help of a licensed insurance agent in your area to help with your decision.
Once you find a plan in your area that offers the grocery benefit, be sure to check the details. Look for the list of participating stores to make sure one is available in your area. For instance, if you can only use the benefit at Kroger, then the benefit does you no good if there is no Kroger in your area. Making sure that you fully understand how the benefit works, as well as the limitations of the benefit, will help you select the plan that works best for your situation.
You might also find some special needs plans that include a grocery benefit. However, almost all of these plans limit eligibility for this benefit to those with an underlying medical condition. While you might find some HMO or PPO plans that offer the benefit to all enrollees, that is usually not the case with a special needs plan.
If you cannot find a plan that includes the benefit you need, you might consider contacting your state’s Medicaid office to see if you qualify. Qualifying for Medicaid might mean that you qualify for other benefits, like food stamps. These benefits can help cover the cost of your groceries for those individuals who have a financial need. You might also qualify for other free government money for seniors over 50, such as housing assistance, a free cell phone, or other programs.
How To Use Your Medicare Healthy Food Card
Once you have signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan and received your grocery card, how do you use it? The process is quite easy. Go to your local grocery store or other store and check out like you normally would. Once the cashier rings up your groceries, you will hand them your healthy food card. The card works basically like a debit card. The cashier will scan the card, and the cost of the food will be subtracted from your balance on the card. Whether you receive a monthly allowance, quarterly allowance, or yearly allowance will determine when your card gets reloaded with additional funds. It is important to keep track of the balance on your card because it will no longer work once your balance reaches zero. Many plans allow you to easily check your balance online or through a mobile app.
Also, remember that you can only use your card at participating retailers. Not all grocery stores will accept your grocery benefit card. However, the following stores usually participate in most plans:
- Food Lion
Since the list of participating stores will vary by plan and state, you should always check your plan’s details for additional information. Since most grocery benefits are not subject to a copay, you will not owe anything for your qualifying food purchase as long as you have enough money on your card.
If you do not have enough money left on your card, you will be required to pay for the balance out of your own pocket. You cannot use Medicare Supplement insurance to cover the difference. Remember that you cannot enroll in both a Medigap and a Medicare Advantage plan. Since the grocery benefit is unavailable with Original Medicare, a Medicare supplement plan will not help pay for your groceries or healthy foods.
The Bottom Line
The Medicare grocery benefit is not something that is available to people enrolled in Original Medicare, but some Medicare Advantage plans offer this benefit. You can use the grocery benefit to pay for healthy foods, but some plans require you to have a chronic health condition to get the benefit. Different plans have different benefit amounts and eligibility requirements, so you should check with your insurance company to find out the specifics of your plan. These benefits can only be used to pay for Medicare-covered food items, and they can only be used at participating retailers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Medicare pay for groceries?
No, Medicare does not pay for groceries. Groceries, grocery delivery, and meal delivery services are not covered by Original Medicare. However, some Medicare Advantage plans offer a grocery benefit. The benefit amount varies from plan to plan, although some plans can provide several hundred dollars per year to help pay for healthy foods. These plans provide a grocery card that can be used like a debit card at participating retailers and grocery stores.
What is the Medicare $900 grocery benefit?
There is no specific $900 Medicare grocery benefit. There was speculation of an additional $900 stimulus payment for seniors on Social Security to help cover the cost of their groceries. However, this additional stimulus payment was never passed by Congress. Many Medicare Advantage plans offer a grocery benefit, and low-income seniors may qualify for SNAP assistance or other food assistance programs. You should contact local assistance programs in your area to learn more about programs that offer free food for seniors on Medicare.
Will Medicare pay for a meal delivery service?
No, Medicare does not pay for meal delivery services. Some Medicare Advantage plans will pay for this service, though. Typically, even MA plans that include this benefit limit its use to certain situations. For example, your plan might pay for a meal delivery service for a limited time during recovery after a hospital stay or injury. Once the recovery time has passed, your plan will no longer provide coverage for meal deliveries.
What foods can I get with Healthy Benefits Plus?
This benefit can be used to pay for healthy foods at the grocery store. The benefit includes foods such as meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, cereals, soups, frozen meals, and other healthy items. The plan will not pay for junk food such as sodas, cookies, desserts, alcohol, or tobacco. For an accurate list of foods covered by your plan, you should contact your insurance company or refer to your plan’s documentation.