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Medicare Grocery Benefit: What It Is, How To Use It, & More

Written by 
Lacey Ramburger

Article at a glance

  • A Medicare grocery benefit is an amount of money pre-loaded onto a card into quarterly installments to use towards health food purchases at grocery stores.
  • Not all Medicare Advantage plans include this benefit, and it is not included in Original Medicare.
  • Eligibility requirements vary by state and plan but usually involve qualifying for a healthcare plan with the benefit and having a qualifying health condition.

What Is a Medicare Grocery Benefit?

The Medicare grocery benefit, also referred to as a Medicare food allowance or Medicare grocery allowance, is a benefit offered under certain Medicare Advantage plans that allows certain Medicare beneficiaries to buy healthy food and pantry options for more nutritious meals.

This benefit is not available on all Medicare plans, and not everyone qualifies for it.

Note: There are many names for the Medicare Grocery Benefit. Examples include grocery allowance,” grocery benefit,” and Medicare Food Allowance.” 

How Does The Grocery Benefit Work?

If you qualify for a Medicare grocery allowance, you will receive a Medicare Flex card (it may also be referred to as a Medicare food allowance card or Medicare healthy food card). The card will be preloaded quarterly with the allocated Medicare food allowance benefits. Usually, these deposits will occur on January 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and October 1st.

To use your grocery benefits, use the card on approved grocery items at participating grocery retailers. If you do not use the full benefit by the end of the quarter, the remaining balance doesn’t roll over, so it’s important to use the full amount to make the most of your benefits.

What Does The Medicare Grocery Benefit Cover?

While the Medicare grocery benefit does allow you to buy food, it doesn’t cover all groceries. The focus is on healthy food staples, but there are restrictions.

What Is Covered

The Medicare food allowance usually covers

  • Fresh, canned, and frozen fruit
  • Fresh, canned, and frozen vegetables
  • Salad kits
  • Dairy Products
  • Beans
  • Healthy Grains
  • Meats
  • Baking needs like flour, seasonings, sugar
  • Nutrition shakes and snack bars
  • Water and vitamin water

Note: Check with your Medicare Advantage plan for specifics surrounding what qualifies for the grocery benefit.

What Is Not Covered

Items that typically aren’t covered under the grocery benefit include

  • Pet food
  • Baby formula
  • Non-food items
  • Chips
  • Fresh baked goods
  • Sugary treats such as desserts or candy
  • Soda
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco

Which Medicare Plans Include the Grocery Benefit?

Despite the name Medicare” grocery benefit, not all Medicare plans offer a grocery allowance.

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B)

Original Medicare plans do not offer grocery benefits. This is due to Part A covering hospital expenses and Part B covering certain medical expenses.

Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C)

Some Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) do offer a grocery benefit or allowance. However, not all plans have this benefit. Be sure to check with your insurance provider about your coverage options.

Medicare Supplement Plans

As with Original Medicare, Medicare supplement plans do not offer a grocery allowance. These plans are meant to supplement gaps in Original Medicare coverage, but this benefit is not included.

Note: The most common type of Medicare plan that offers a grocery benefit is a Special Needs Plan (SNP). To get this benefit, you have to qualify under specific conditions, so it’s important to check the criteria to see if you qualify.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements For the Benefit?

The qualifications for a grocery allowance can vary. However, in most cases, the requirements include having a Medicare Advantage plan that includes the grocery benefit and a qualifying health condition. Some conditions that may meet eligibility criteria include:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Kidney disease
  • End-stage renal disease
  • End-stage liver disease
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Arthritis
  • An autoimmune disorder

Note: Qualifications for the grocery benefit vary by plan, so check with your plan’s provider to see if your health condition qualifies.

Where Can You Use The Grocery Benefit?

To use your healthy food benefit, you must purchase grocery items at participating stores. These stores will likely vary from plan to plan.

Some grocery retailers that are often acceptable include

  • Walgreens
  • CVS
  • Kroger
  • Walmart
  • Food Lion

Note: Not all the aforementioned retailers may qualify, and there may be additional stores where you may use your grocery benefit. Check with your plan provider for a full list of acceptable retailers.

Grocery Benefit Vs. Meal Benefit

Different Medicare plans offer different benefits. One of those options may include a meal benefit. Despite the similarity in their names, a grocery benefit and a meal benefit are not the same.

While a grocery benefit is a set amount of money to use when purchasing grocery items, a meal benefit is typically in the form of meal delivery services. Meal benefits are often more popular than a grocery allowance.

However, while the meal benefit is the more commonly offered benefit, the main catch is it’s usually for a limited amount of time, typically four weeks, and is implemented after a hospital stay. A grocery benefit, on the other hand, is dispensed quarterly.

If you’re not sure which benefit you qualify for, be sure to clarify with your insurance provider.

Is the Medicare Grocery Benefit Worth It?

While the grocery benefit may be a helpful perk to have, is it worth it? There are a few things to take into consideration.

Selecting the Best Plan For Your Needs

Not all Medicare Advantage plans offer a grocery benefit. It’s important when selecting a plan to ensure it covers your medical needs as much as possible, so choosing a plan solely for food benefits may not be the best plan for you in the long run.

Take into account everything the plan covers before making a decision.

Amount of the Grocery Benefit Offered

The amount of money allotted for a grocery allowance varies by state and plan. While some plans may offer $50 each quarter, others may offer higher amounts.

While any amount of money can help, it may not be worth it if the plan is expensive. You may receive a grocery benefit, but you may be paying for it with higher costs.

Other Benefits Offered

While a grocery allowance is a great asset, there may be other perks through other plans that may be a better fit for your health and lifestyle needs. It’s important to explore all potential benefits and decide which are top priorities before making a final decision.

Other Grocery Assistance Options

A grocery allowance benefit may help seniors purchase healthier food choices, but it’s not the only option that can help assist with food-related purchases.

  • Meals On Wheels: Meals On Wheels is a program designed to help give low-income seniors access to food. Meals are provided on a sliding scale basis determined by income. You can learn more about the Meals on Wheels program here.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SNAP benefits are another way to receive financial assistance with food. For seniors in particular, there are certain rules and exceptions that can make qualifying for SNAP benefits easier, including certain deductions and only having to meet the net income test. You can learn more information about special rules for seniors and SNAP assistance here.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): This option provides food assistance to women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are suffering from nutritional risk, along with references to other health care services. You can learn more about WIC here
  • Food Pantry: Check with your local food bank if your budget is tight. You can use this locator tool to find local food banks near you.
  • Veteran Benefits: If you are a veteran, some food assistance programs such as SNAP or WIC may have specific exceptions that can help you qualify for the programs. You can learn more about these programs and exceptions here. 

FAQ

Is the Medicare grocery allowance real?

Yes, there is a benefit referred to as a grocery allowance or grocery benefit. However, it's not available through Original Medicare, and it isn't available on all Medicare Advantage plans. Check with your provider to see which plans may include the benefit.

What can I buy with the grocery allowance?

The grocery allowance can be used toward healthy food choices such as produce, healthy grains, dairy products, meat, and more. Items such as soda, alcohol, and candy are not covered under the grocery allowance.

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