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 Medicare Advantage plans also offer additional benefits, such as Part D drug coverage, dental and vision care, and grocery delivery services. Keep in mind that the availability of meal services for Medicare Advantage users will vary by which Medicare Advantage plan you have.
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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. With limited mobility and instructions to rest and heal, making meals could put undue stress on the body. Grocery 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.
Limitations On Nutritional Services for Original Medicare Enrollees
While Original Medicare provides coverage for many healthcare services, it has limitations when it comes to nutritional services for enrollees. Specifically, Original Medicare does not cover meal delivery or grocery delivery services in most cases, which can be important for seniors who have difficulty accessing food due to mobility or health issues. Despite that, Original Medicare does offer some nutritional services to enrollees depending on the treatment they are receiving.
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 grocery 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 while in a Medicare-approved facility may be covered under Medicare Part A, but once you’re discharged from the care facility, Part B does not provide Medicare grocery 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 D
Medicare Part D, also called prescription drug coverage, does not offer coverage for any grocery 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 grocery 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.
Does Medicare Advantage Offer Meal or Grocery Delivery?
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.
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.
Eligibility for Meal or Grocery Delivery With Medicare Advantage
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 grocery 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.
How Much Do Nutritional Services Cost As Part of Original Medicare?
Medicare only covers the cost of meals that are provided during a hospital stay. Meals provided before or after your hospital stay, such as grocery delivery services, are not covered by Medicare.
If you receive meals as part of a Medicare-covered stay in the hospital, you will not be directly charged for those meals. Instead, the hospital will bill Medicare directly for the cost of providing meals during your stay. Medicare will cover the cost of meals that are considered medically necessary as part of your hospital care.
How Much Does Meal Delivery Cost As Part of Medicare Advantage?
If your Medicare Advantage plan includes food 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 plan does not provide grocery 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 range from $7 per meal to $15 per meal, depending on the service used.
Meal Delivery Alternatives for Original Medicare Enrollees
While Original Medicare does not offer coverage of meal and grocery deliveries, there are a variety of alternatives offering similar services available to those with Original Medicare. Read on to see if any of them may be applicable to your situation.
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 grocery delivery options, which include both home delivered meals and meals served in group settings like community centers. Eligibility for meal benefits varies 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 grocery 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 there are any similar local programs that can help you get home-delivered meals.
Putting It All Together
While Original Medicare provides coverage for a wide range of healthcare services, it does not typically cover food delivery services. However, there are some situations where Medicare may provide coverage for meals, such as during a hospital stay or as part of a Medicare Advantage plan. It’s important to understand your Medicare coverage and benefits and to explore all available options for accessing healthy food and nutrition-related services.
For seniors and individuals with disabilities who may have difficulty accessing food, meal delivery and grocery delivery services can be an important lifeline. While these services may not be covered by Original Medicare, there are other programs and resources available that can help.
For example, some states offer nutrition assistance programs that provide food and other resources to low-income seniors. Additionally, many local non-profit organizations and community groups offer meal delivery and grocery delivery services to seniors and individuals with disabilities. By exploring all available options, individuals can find the resources they need to stay healthy and independent.