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How seniors can get free home-delivered meals

Here are some of the most common ways older adults might access a free home-delivered meals program.

September 14, 2023

How seniors can get free home-delivered meals

Food insecurity among older Americans is more common than many people might think. A 2023 report from Feeding America noted 1 in 14 seniors was food insecure. In the past two decades, food insecurity has increased by 45% among older adults.

Get started with these questions

Even though there are programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in place to help alleviate food access challenges, three out of five seniors do not take advantage of SNAP at all, even though they are otherwise eligible.

What many people may not realize is that millions of seniors may qualify for government or health plan assistance and could be eligible for home-delivered meal programs, such as from Mom’s Meals®, at little or no cost to them. As you start exploring your options, begin with these questions:

  • Are you over 65?
  • Are you disabled?
  • Do you require assistance with grocery shopping or preparing meals?
  • Are you on Medicaid, a Medicare Advantage plan that offers a paid meal benefits?

Oftentimes, seniors can receive access to nutritious meals through either a health insurance plan under Medicare Advantage or Medicaid or through a government agency such as an Area Agency on Aging (AAA).

Here are some of the most common ways older adults might access a free home-delivered meals program.

Medicaid benefit

Many health plans covered by Medicaid offer their members a home-delivered meals benefit under a variety of circumstances:

  • Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) - Usually reserved for individuals with disabling conditions and chronic illnesses, LTSS programs are designed to help members support independence, health, and quality of life. Meals are often part of that package, as many LTSS members face difficulty accessing, purchasing and/or preparing their own meals at home due to functional or cognitive limitations, or social determinants of health.
  • Waiver programs - the Social Security Act includes provisions for a variety of waiver programs (such as sections 1135(b), 1115, and 1915(c)) that are designed to temporarily protect and/or expand access to Medicaid care and services that might not otherwise be available to a Medicaid enrollee under normal circumstances. This often includes LTSS and home and community-based services (HCBS), which in some cases encompass nutrition programs, including home-delivered meals.

What can you do?

Contact your case manager to find out if you qualify to receive home-delivered meals for free or at a discount.

Medicare Advantage benefit

While everyone ages 65 and up is eligible for basic Medicare at no charge, many individuals opt to participate in a Medicare Advantage plan, which comes with a variety of supplemental benefits not included in the standard Medicare offering. This often includes dental, vision, prescriptions, transportation and some sort of nutrition benefit, such as home-delivered meals. In exchange for these services, members may pay a monthly premium and/or have a copay arrangement.

Medicare Advantage plans use supplemental benefits like home-delivered meals for a couple of reasons:

  • The benefits are thought to help support and protect a person's health
  • The benefits help the plan stand out in a competitive market

In 2023, 71% of Medicare Advantage plans offered a meal service as a non-primarily health-related benefit.

While benefit design may vary from plan to plan, some of the most common use cases include:

  • Post-discharge support: Some plans will automatically provide meals for a defined period of time to members who have just been discharged from a hospital or other overnight health care stay. A study of Medicare Advantage members in a community-based care transition program that included home-delivered meals showed a 38% improvement in 30-day readmissions over no post-discharge support.
  • Chronic care support: Some plans will provide meals to members living with one or more chronic conditions that require complex care coordination. In some cases, the meals will be tailored to specific nutritional needs such as support for diabetes, heart disease, cancer or kidney disease. This is often done under a relatively new benefit design option known as a Special Supplemental Benefit for the Chronically Ill, or SSBCI, which was first put into practice in 2020.

What can you do?

Contact your health plan to find out if they have home-delivered meals as part of their plan and if you're eligible to receive them.

Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs)

The 1965 Older Americans Act (OAA) introduced federal nationwide support for a variety of programs and services geared specifically toward seniors, including AAAs, which are local-level nonprofit organizations designed to address the needs and concerns of older individuals.

The OAA includes support for nutrition programs, including grants for both home-delivered meals and congregate meal services (i.e., feeding people in-person in a group setting). These grants are funded at the federal level, meaning recipients receive the meals at no cost to them.

Unlike Medicaid- and Medicare-related benefits, OAA-funded nutrition programs do not have membership requirements. However, participation is usually limited to individuals who are 60 years of age or older.

What can you do?

Look up your local AAA and contact them directly to learn more about their nutrition programs.

Keep these tips in mind

While all these options are a good place to start when looking for home-delivered meals for seniors, keep in mind:

  • The duration and quantity of the meals can vary from program to program.
  • Medicare Advantage post-discharge and chronic care programs vary from health plan to health plan regarding how many meals they provide and for how long.
  • There are typically guidelines around how often a member can access this benefit within the same year.
  • There are no laws prohibiting participation in more than one program. For example, an individual can receive meals through both their health plan and local AAA, even if the programs have different eligibility requirements and terms.

Likewise, individuals who receive SNAP assistance can also receive meals through a health plan or AAA at the same time without penalty — the receipt of meals does not impact the level of assistance an individual may receive through SNAP or their health plan. This is good to know since other government programs like unemployment payments can diminish the level of assistance an individual can receive through SNAP.

Mom’s Meals can help

As a leading national provider of refrigerated, home-delivered meals and nutrition services, Mom’s Meals is dedicated to helping individuals manage their unique nutritional needs.

We work with health plans, managed care organizations, state governments and agencies to provide people covered under Medicare and Medicaid with access to medically tailored meals for free or at a reduced cost. If you do not qualify for this kind of assistance, you can also purchase meals direct.

We offer nine different health condition menus that can be sent right to your home. Get started today.