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, whereas others have difficulty going to the grocery store and preparing meals when recovering from an illness or injury.
Although original Medicare does not offer food benefits, some Medicare Advantage plans provide a grocery allowance or cover meal delivery. Some programs also include nutrition education and cooking classes.
Certain Medicare Advantage plans may provide 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 differs from traditional Medicare, as private companies contract with Medicare to offer Medicare Advantage plans. Plans vary, and finding insurance that fits your unique needs is essential.
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, which tailor membership to beneficiaries 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 an underlying 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.
When Medicare Advantage plans have grocery benefits, they typically give beneficiaries a card that they can use to check out at approved stores like Kroger and Walmart.
The benefits only cover whole foods such as vegetables, legumes, meat, and dairy, as well as pantry staples and water. Only covered food items can go on the card. Enrollees must pay out of pocket for soda, baked goods, and processed foods like chips.
Meal Delivery Services
Instead of grocery benefits, some Medicare Advantage Part C plans cover 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 set time.
Less common is long-term meal delivery coverage for those homebound with chronic medical conditions.
Other Meal Delivery Options
For older adults who do not qualify for a special needs program with meal benefits or who do not elect to enroll in original Medicare, alternative meal resources are available.
- Meals on Wheels is a federally funded meal delivery program for people aged 60 and above who meet location-specific eligibility requirements.
- You can use the Administration for Community Living's Elder Care Locator to find meal delivery organizations.