The rising prices of groceries and food are especially difficult for older adults who have to rely on Social Security benefits, retirement savings, or other sources of fixed income.

We get a lot of questions about Medicare grocery allowances, including if they’re real or a scam. Medicare grocery allowances are real, but not everyone is eligible for them. Some Special Needs Medicare Advantage plans offer a grocery allowance for people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. Original Medicare and Medicare Supplement plans don’t have grocery allowances.

Read on to learn how Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans can offer a grocery allowance and how it works.

Key takeaways:

  • Medicare grocery allowances aren’t available to every Medicare beneficiary. 

  • People who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid can sign up for Special Needs Plans that often provide a grocery allowance benefit.

  • You can usually only buy certain healthy foods with a Medicare grocery allowance.

  • Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans may provide a spending card that members can use to purchase eligible groceries. 

What is a Medicare grocery allowance?

A Medicare grocery allowance is a credit that beneficiaries can use toward healthy foods at the grocery store. Certain Special Needs Plans, which are a type of Medicare Advantage plan that meets the needs of a specific group of people, include a grocery allowance as a benefit. 

Who is eligible for a Medicare grocery allowance?

Generally, only people who are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid are eligible for a grocery allowance through a Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan.

Which Medicare Advantage plans have a grocery allowance?

There are three types of Special Needs Plans (SNPs), but not all of them include grocery allowances. Private insurance companies offer Medicare Advantage plans, and they determine what benefits their Special Needs Plans include. Below, we explain the three types of SNPs and whether or not they have a grocery allowance.

Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plans

Also called D-SNPs, these plans are reserved for people who are “dually eligible,” meaning that they are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. Many Medicare Advantage D-SNPs include a grocery allowance. Other benefits can include over-the-counter (OTC) credits, rent and utility assistance, and transportation services

Chronic Conditions Special Needs Plans

Chronic Conditions Special Needs Plans, or C-SNPs, are specialized Medicare Advantage plans for people with chronic or disabling conditions. These plans can include a grocery allowance, but it’s rare. It’s more common to see OTC cards as a benefit included with C-SNPs. 

Institutional Special Needs Plans

Institutional Special Needs Plans (I-SNPs) are for Medicare beneficiaries who need an institutional level of care through skilled nursing or similar facilities. This type of Special Needs Plan doesn’t usually come with a grocery allowance. 

What groceries can you buy with a Medicare grocery allowance?

You can typically only buy foods that are considered healthy with a Medicare grocery allowance. This includes fruits and vegetables, dairy products, proteins, grains, some frozen meals and foods, canned goods, and healthy snacks like nuts and granola bars. Foods high in saturated fats like chips and candy bars are usually ineligible for purchase with a Medicare grocery allowance.

How does the Medicare grocery allowance work?

How a Medicare grocery allowance works depends on your insurance carrier and plan. In many cases, D-SNPs provide flex spending cards that you can use like a debit card. These cards are typically preloaded on a monthly or quarterly basis. 

As an example, UnitedHealthcare’s D-SNP plans can include a “Ucard,” which is a monthly preloaded card that can be used to pay for healthy foods, OTC products, and utility-related expenses. Similarly, Aetna D-SNPs often come with an “Extra Benefits” card that you can use for groceries and other eligible goods and services. 

What are other Medicare resources for low-income seniors?

Nearly 17 million people aged 65 and up have low incomes and resources. Thankfully, there are various government-led Medicare resources available to help low-income seniors. 

If you need help with any Medicare resources or you’d like to compare your options for Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans, get in touch with a Chapter Medicare agent at 855-900-2427 or schedule a time to chat.

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