The food you eat is an important piece to the puzzle of your overall health. That’s especially true for Americans living with complex health conditions. More and more HMO and PPO insurance plans are recognizing this, and taking massive steps to ensure that they’re providing precisely what their members need.

Medicare grocery benefits make it easier for millions of Americans to eat healthier. But unfortunately most people don’t even know this program exists. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at medicare grocery benefits, explain its inner workings, and highlight the most common eligibility requirements.

What Is the Medicare Grocery Benefit?

Sometimes called a food allowance benefit, the Medicare grocery benefit isn’t available through Part A or Part B. Those that opt for Medicare Advantage coverage, or Medicare Part C, may be able to sign up for a plan that includes a food allowance benefit.1

Not all insurers offer a grocery benefit and eligibility can be quite restrictive. However, those that do qualify are in line to receive a grocery allowance that can be used to help them pay for groceries.

How to Qualify

The first step to qualifying is finding a Medicare Advantage plan that offers a grocery benefit. These types of plans do exist, though they aren’t yet widely available. Finding one takes a little bit of research. Don’t give up if your search comes up empty. Health insurance plans are always changing, so be sure to check back until you find a provider willing to offer one.

Those that do have a health insurance plan that offers grocery benefits don’t automatically qualify either. Eligibility is typically only granted for members living with one of the following health conditions:

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

It’s important to note that the above list isn’t comprehensive, and the eligibility requirements of your plan may be much different. The only way to know for sure is to connect with your health insurance provider directly.

How Does it Work?

Those that have a plan and qualify to receive a Medicare grocery benefit can expect to receive an allowance that can be used to purchase qualifying grocery items. Every plan is different, but many will supply the member with a benefits card that can be used to make purchases at approved retailers.

The size and payment schedule can vary depending on the health plan and provider. Some benefits can pay as little as $10 per month, while others might issue hundreds of dollars to plan members on a quarterly basis.2

Usually the benefit will be pre-loaded to the card, so it can be used like a gift card. Again, a lot can depend on the plan and insurance provider, so it’s always best to familiarize yourself with your plan, connect directly with your insurance provider, and do independent research online.

What Does the Medicare Grocery Benefit Cover?

Medicare grocery benefits aren’t without their limitations. These programs are designed to encourage healthy eating. As such, the use of a grocery benefits card is restricted to healthy food.

The list of approved items can vary, but generally includes the following culinary staples:

  • Fresh Fruits
  • Fresh Vegetables
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Soups
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Spices
  • Vitamin Water
  • Salad kits
  • Dairy products
  • Frozen meals
  • Beans
  • Cereals
  • Healthy grains

Your card can’t be used to cover the cost of every purchase. Plan members shouldn’t expect to be able to use their grocery benefits to pay for :

  • Pet items
  • Baby formula
  • Chips
  • Desserts
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee
  • Candy
  • Non-food items
  • Fresh baked goods3

Where Can Medicare Grocery Benefits Be Used?

Where the benefit can be used depends on the plan and the location of the enrollee. Don’t expect to be able to use the provided food card at any retailer you’d like. All plans include a list of participating retailers. Thankfully the list is usually made up of national retailers with locations spread out across the country.

This list is far from comprehensive, but some commonly accepted retailers include:

  • Walgreens
  • ACME
  • Kroger
  • Walmart
  • CVS
  • Food Lion
  • Stop & Shop

Find Out If You Qualify Today

Grocery benefits aren’t available to all Medicare enrollees, and many won’t qualify. But learning about Medicare grocery benefits and the general eligibility requirements is the first step. Now, it’s up to you to research the plans available to you and find out if you qualify.

In most cases, those questions can be answered quickly and easily by searching online. Failing that, you could also call a representative from your health insurance provider and ask them questions directly.