Free Groceries for Seniors on Medicare: Legit or Not?

by David Bynon, last updated

A while back, we wrote about the Flex Card benefit flooding our TVs with commercials claiming outrageous monetary benefits, but only if you qualify. We’re seeing similar commercials for Medicare grocery benefits.

Is The Medicare Grocery Allowance Real?

The Medicare Grocery Allowance is real, but not through Medicare. Also known as the Food Allowance Card for Seniors, it is a feature of certain Special Needs Plans, and a limited number of traditional Medicare Advantage plans. It can be used for most nutritional foods and pantry staples.

In this article, you’ll learn what the Medicare healthy food card is all about, who qualifies, and what you have to do to get it.

Key Takeaways

  • The Medicare Grocery Benefit is an optional benefit offered by some Medicare Advantage D-SNP and C-SNP plans and a few Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Some of the insurance carriers that offer the Medicare Grocery Benefit include Humana, Aetna, United HealthCare, Florida Blue, and Blue Shield of California.
  • The Medicare Grocery Benefit can be used for nutritional foods, including meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, salad kits, dairy, frozen meals, soup, water, nutrition bars, and pantry staples.
  • The monthly range on a Medicare Food Allowance card in 2023 is $25-$275. The average amount is $150 per month.

Does Medicare Advantage Cover Groceries?

Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Part C, are private health plans that provide all of the same benefits are Medicare Part A and Part B. Plus, these plans are allowed to include extra benefits approved by Medicare.

The most common additional benefits Medicare Advantage plans include are prescription drug coverage and routine dental and vision care. Many plans also offer hearing care, over-the-counter medication benefits, gym memberships, and more.

Most recently, Medicare has approved food and utility assistance benefits.

What Is The Medicare Grocery Benefit?

The Medicare Grocery Benefit is an optional food allowance provided by select Medicare Special Needs Plans (SNPs). It is almost exclusively offered by D-SNP (dual eligible) plans, which are only available to people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. However, a few C-SNP (chronic illness) plans offer it, as well.

A Medicare Grocery Benefit card is not available in all areas or by all health insurance carriers. So, you’ll need to speak with an agent to find plans that offer it. You can do that by calling 1-855-728-0510 (TTY 711).

If you join a plan that offers a Medicare Grocery Benefit card, you can use it to buy a wide range of food products, however, most non-nutritional foods are excluded.

Foods you can buy with the card include:

  • Meat, poultry, and seafood
  • Fruits and vegetables (including fresh salad kits)
  • Dairy products
  • Frozen meals
  • Pantry staples
  • Water
  • Soup
  • Nutritional bars

Foods you can’t buy with the food allowance include:

  • Alcohol
  • Desserts and other sugary foods
  • Pet food
  • Self-care and personal hygiene products

How Does The Medicare Food Card Work?

If you join a plan that offers a Medicare Food Allowance, in most cases you will receive a prepaid visa card. With some plans, you get a coupon card. Your plan will reload the card for you monthly or quarterly.

The typical Medicare Food Allowance is $150 a month in 2023. However, plans range from as little as $25 per month all the way up to $275 per month.

If your plan offers a prepaid visa card, you use it just like a regular debit card. Coupon cards are a little different. With these cards, the cashier scans the back of the card to apply the applicable amount to your purchase.

In our analysis, none of the Food Allowance cards roll over, so you’ll need to use the full amount of your benefit each month or you’ll lose it.

Average Medicare Food Allowance Amounts

Carriers That Offer a Food Allowance Payment Schedule Average Amount
Humana Monthly $35-$275
United HealthCare Monthly $150
Florida Blue Monthly $50
Blue Shield California Monthly $25-$50
Wellcare Monthly $25-$50
Clover Health Quarterly $30-$410

Some of the major stores that accept Medicare Food Allowance cards include Walmart, Kroger, Food Lion, CVS, and Walgreens.

What Types of Plans Offer a Food Card?

The Medicare Food Allowance is not a freebie benefit. Medicare allows it as an optional benefit so that vulnerable seniors can keep up with their nutritional needs. This is why it is primarily available only through dual-eligible Medicare Special Needs Plans (D-SNPs).

Most traditional Medicare Advantage plans do not include food allowance benefits because they are not designed for people living at or below the federal poverty level. D-SNP plans serve this population in nearly 3,000 U.S. counties. For these beneficiaries, the $150 average grocery card makes a real difference.

Some chronic illness SNP plans (C-SNP) also have a grocery benefit.

NOTE: Many D-SNP plans also offer a utility benefit and over-the-counter pharmacy benefits.

Who Can Get a Food Card?

If you qualify to join a Medicare D-SNP or C-SNP plan, you may be eligible for a Medicare Grocery Card if your plan offers it. You may be eligible for a food card with a traditional Medicare Advantage plan, but the circumstances are rare.

To qualify, you will need to complete a health risk assessment or have a specific health condition that’s approved by Medicare. Some of the conditions that may qualify include:

  • An autoimmune disorder
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
  • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • End-stage liver disease
  • Obesity

Speak with your plan to find out if your condition is included.

Is The Medicare Food Allowance Legitimate?

Yes, this is a legitimate benefit that’s approved by Medicare. Not all plans offer the benefit, and the benefit is not available in all areas, so don’t get sucked in by TV commercials offering $900 Medicare grocery benefits.

What you need to know is that unscrupulous telemarketers are using this benefit to scam seniors. Medicare will never call you about this benefit. If you receive a call about a food allowance, don’t answer any questions. It’s best to hang up.

If you want to find out if you qualify and what plans are available in your area, call 1-855-728-0510 (TTY 711). A HealthCompare agent will be happy to assist you.

Other Food Programs

Even though most traditional Medicare Advantage plans do not offer the Medicare Food Allowance benefit, many do offer food delivery as a benefit. Typically you can get this benefit as temporary assistance after an inpatient stay in a hospital, skilled nursing facility (SNF), or another inpatient facility. Meal delivery may also be covered by your plan if you have a chronic health condition that makes you homebound.

Talk to your plan to learn about food delivery benefits. If you are researching plans, call 1-855-728-0510 (TTY 711) to speak with a licensed agent.

Depending on your specific needs and eligibility, There are other programs available to seniors and beneficiaries :

Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels is a federally-funded program that delivers meals and healthy food to seniors and individuals recently released from the hospital. , and others who may be facing hunger or difficulties purchasing or preparing their own meals.

Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)

PACE serves people ages 55 and older, offering meals and nutritional counseling for those in need, including home-delivered meals, meals prepared in your home, or meals supplied through outside organizations. To qualify, you must live in the service area of a PACE organization, need a nursing home level of care, and be able to live safely in the community.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP is a federal program that helps people afford the food they need. It provides supplemental funds that can be used to buy eligible items. Benefits are put on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that can be used like a debit card. Each state has different eligibility rules. Generally, a threshold for household income must be met, and household assets can’t exceed a certain amount.

Citations and References

    1. Aetna, “Get the Most Out of Your Plan“, Accessed April 15, 2023
    2. Humana, “Humana Healthy Foods Card Is Now the Healthy Options Allowance” Accessed April 15, 2023
    3. Wellcare Health Plans, “$0 Prescriptions and Healthy Foods Benefit“, Accessed April 15, 2023
    4. Clover Health, “Medicare Advantage Plans and the Grocery Plus Benefit“, Accessed April 15, 2023
    5. Blue Shield California, “Get Easier Access to Healthy Groceries“, Accessed April 15, 2023
    6. CarePlus Health Plans, “CarePlus Healthy Foods Card Program“, Accessed April 15, 2023
    7. Florida Blue, “Healthy Food Benefit Available for Medicare/Medicaid Dual-Eligible Members with a Qualifying Condition“, Accessed April 15, 2023
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