If you’re recovering from an illness, returning from a stay in the hospital, or have ongoing mobility challenges, it may be difficult to shop for ingredients and prepare your own meals. Meal delivery services offer a way to have prepared food or ingredients delivered to your door, but these typically come with a cost.
Older people are more likely to experience health issues that make it difficult or impossible to grocery shop or cook for themselves. However, your Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan may cover meal delivery as a benefit. Learn more about how it works, what it may cost, and other options to consider if your Medicare plan does not offer meal delivery coverage.
Will Medicare Cover Meal Delivery and Grocery Shopping?
Medicare Part A and Part B, known as Original Medicare, do not cover home meal delivery. Instead, Original Medicare covers meals provided by the facility during hospital stays and when patients are in short- or long-term care facilities. But once beneficiaries are back in their own homes, meals are no longer covered.
However, some Medicare Advantage plans may offer meal delivery coverage as an additional benefit. Medicare Advantage plans are issued by private insurance companies and at minimum must cover everything that Original Medicare covers. Many Advantage plans also offer additional benefits, such as Part D drug coverage, dental and vision care, and meal delivery services.
In general, Original Medicare only pays for grocery and meal services if you are in the hospital or a skilled nursing facility (SNF). There are some home-delivery meal services, but these are generally for emergency or short-term circumstances.
Medicare Part A
Medicare Part A covers any meals provided by the facility during inpatient stays, but does not cover meals once you are discharged from care. As such, Part A does not cover meal delivery once you are back home. Instead, Part A focuses on inpatient hospital care, hospice care, and skilled nursing facility care.
Medicare Part B
Your meals may be covered under Medicare Part B while you are in Part B-approved inpatient care, but once you’re discharged from the care facility, Part B does not provide Medicare meal delivery coverage. Instead, Medicare Part B covers medically necessary and preventative care, including ambulance transport for emergencies, durable medical equipment (DME), mental health inpatient care, outpatient care, and partial hospitalization care.
Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage)
Some Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Part C, may provide access free Medicare meal delivery. But because Part C plans are offered through private insurance companies, meal delivery coverage may vary by plan and insurer.
However, it is a fairly common benefit with Part C plans: In 2022, 71% of Individual Medicare Advantage plans offered a meal benefit as part of their benefits package. This number climbs to 79% for Special Needs Plans (SNPs), which are plans designed to provide targeted care to individuals who are institutionalized, have a severe or disabling chronic condition, or are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.
If a Part C plan does include a Medicare meal delivery benefit, it’s typically offered for a set length of time in response to a specific situation. For example, if you are discharged from the hospital following an inpatient stay, your plan may offer a set number of meals for delivery. Those with a chronic condition may also be eligible for meal delivery benefits. Depending on your insurer, beneficiaries may also have the option to customize meals to accommodate dietary restrictions, so long as the meals align with insurance plan policies and Medicare’s nutritional daily guidelines.
Your Medicare Advantage plan may also partner with a local delivery service, such as Meals on Wheels, to provide your meals. Because there is no standardized contractor for this coverage, the service provider may vary from state to state.
Medicare Part D
Medicare Part D, also called prescription drug coverage, does not offer coverage for any meal delivery services. Instead, Part D helps beneficiaries offset the cost of prescription drugs for chronic medical conditions, temporary illnesses, and drugs needed after inpatient care. Part D is optional and offered as a stand-alone plan or bundled into a Medicare Advantage plan.
Medigap (Medicare Supplement)
Medicare Supplement insurance, also known as Medigap, does not offer coverage for meal delivery. This is because Medigap works as a supplement to Original Medicare, helping to cover the out-of-pocket costs associated with Parts A and B, such as deductibles, coinsurance, and copays. Though some Medigap plans offer additional benefits that Original Medicare does not, such as emergency foreign medical care for those traveling outside the U.S., none offer meal delivery coverage as part of their benefits.
How Does Meal Delivery Work and What Is It Needed For?
Meal delivery works by providing pre-cooked meals to people in their homes. While Part C plans may use different meal providers, the basic principle is the same: Beneficiaries choose from a preset list of meals, either online or by phone, and schedule a delivery date. Meals are then delivered ready to serve, allowing beneficiaries to simply eat rather than shopping for ingredients and preparing their own meals.
This benefit could be a critical benefit for a Medicare beneficiary who has been recently discharged from the hospital after major surgery. With limited mobility and instructions to rest and heal, making meals could put undue stress on the body. Meal delivery services remove the time and effort of cooking, allowing the beneficiary to focus on recovering.
Medicare home-delivered meals can also help beneficiaries with chronic conditions. For example, if you experience a sudden flare-up of a chronic illness that reduces your mobility or strength, making a meal could be difficult and time-consuming. Delivery services provide a way to get nutritious meals while coping with chronic concerns.
How Much Does Meal Delivery Cost?
If your Medicare Plan C includes meal delivery, it covers the cost of this service for a set number of meals. Check with your plan to see how many meals you are eligible to receive.
If your Medicare Plan C plan does not provide meal delivery coverage, you can pay for this service out of pocket, though some organizations may use a sliding scale to accommodate lower income individuals. Average prices for meal delivery ranges from $7 per meal to $15 per meal, depending on the service used.
Other Meal Delivery Options
Medicare Part C is not the only way to receive meal delivery services. Other government agencies and local organizations offer essential meal delivery programs for eligible older adults.
In some states, you may be able to access home meal delivery through Medicaid. For example, Michigan offers the MI Choice waiver program. This program allows eligible Medicaid recipients to receive covered services while staying at home, including nursing services, community living support, and home-delivered meals. Medicare beneficiaries who are dual-eligible for Medicaid can check with their state’s Medicaid program to see if they can receive meal benefits.
Administration for Community Living
The Administration for Community Living (ACL) also provides meal delivery options, which include both home-delivered meals and meals served in group settings like community centers. Eligibility for meal benefits vary by state and organization, but typically you must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- You are 60 years old or older
- You provide volunteer services during meal hours
- You live in housing facilities with mainly older adults
- You have disabilities and live with older adults may be eligible for this program
The Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) is a Medicare-run program that helps older adults stay in their communities rather than move into nursing homes. As part of these efforts, PACE offers meal delivery services if applicants are 55 years old or older, live in a PACE service area, and are eligible for nursing care but can still live safely in the community.
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels provides meal delivery services for those with limited mobility or other physical challenges, including older adults. Programs are administered by local Meals on Wheels branches, each of which has different eligibility criteria. Typically, those eligible to receive meals from Meals on Wheels deliveries can pay for their meals on a sliding scale, with lower income individuals being asked to only contribute what they can afford.
Other Local Programs
Other local programs may offer home-delivered meals for seniors or those with physical challenges or chronic conditions. For example, the State of Washington offers a Home-Delivered Nutrition Services (HDNS) program to eligible individuals who are over 60 years old, homebound, and unable to prepare meals for themselves because they lack the means, capacity, and support network to do so.
Check with your state, city, or neighborhood to see if any there are any similar local programs that can help you get home-delivered meals.