Coffee & Coverage: Does Medicare Cover Meals on Wheels?

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This article was updated on January 4, 2021. 

Meals on Wheels is a nutrition program that feeds homebound seniors and some people with disabilities. If you are homebound and unable to feed yourself due to medical conditions, mental limitations, or affordability, Meals on Wheels may be able to help you.

What is Meals on Wheels?

Meals on Wheels has more than 5,000 programs operating across the United States and feeds more than 2.4 million people annually. The program is best known as a food delivery service for homebound seniors who do not have access to healthy food or are unable to feed themselves.

If you are unable to pay for the program, don’t worry. No one will be denied service because they are unable to pay. Meals on Wheels may operate on a sliding payment scale, and some programs accept food stamps. Each program creates its own payment policy as well as eligibility guidelines, so check with your local program to see if you qualify.

Most people will qualify for Meals on Wheels if they are:

  • Homebound
  • Elderly
  • Physically or mentally disabled, and
  • Unable to feed themselves

What does Medicare cover?

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) does not cover Meals on Wheels. If you are hospitalized or are admitted to a skilled nursing facility, Medicare Part A will cover your meals while you’re an inpatient. Even though Original Medicare doesn’t cover Meals on Wheels, you may still be eligible for low-cost or free meals based on your income and health conditions.

Medicare Advantage may cover meal delivery services based on your plan and if you meet specific qualifications. Your Medicare Advantage plan may coordinate with staff members to deliver nutritious meals to your door. If you have just returned home from the hospital, your doctor may order delivered meals for you for up to four weeks. If you have a chronic illness that makes you unable to feed yourself, you may be eligible for meal deliveries for up to two weeks per year. Call your plan directly to see if you qualify for meal deliveries.

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Additional benefits

Meals on Wheels delivers more than just nutritional food. Staff members also provide important socialization for homebound seniors. If necessary, staff members may also be able to assist with additional tasks like cleaning, laundry, dressing, and bathing.

What does the future look like for Meals on Wheels?

Meals on Wheels is funded through a mixture of individuals donors, volunteers, and government funding. The major sources for government funding include:

  • Senior nutrition federal funding, 
  • Medicaid waiver programs, 
  • And local funding such as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). 

In March of 2017, President Trump proposed a budget that would greatly reduce the number of funding Meals on Wheels receives through block grants. Block grants are lump sums of money the federal government gives to states for state officials to allocate how they see fit. This is where the majority of Meals on Wheels funding comes from. 

However, Trump’s threat to cut Meals on Wheels funding has increased the number of individual donations the national branch of the program receives. 

Jenny Bertolette, Vice President of Communications for Meals on Wheels America, said, “On a given day, Meals on Wheels America typically receives $1,000 in unsolicited online donations. Since [Trump announced the possible cuts], we’ve received more than $160,000 in online donations.” 

Meals on Wheels feeds community through pilot project

Meals on Wheels is also trying to feed communities through its Meals on Wheels People project. The program feeds thousands of seniors within the Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington area through their dozens of diners

In addition to providing discounted or free meals to anyone over age 60, the program also helps build community and encourage socialization between seniors. Many centers even offer exercise classes, arts and crafts classes, field trips, and group outings. 

Meals on Wheels People also caters to people who need to eat special diets, like heart-healthy, low-carb, low-sodium diets, and they also serve a variety of ethnically-inclusive meals. 

Each meal costs $7.39, but diners are asked to contribute what they can. The project also accepts donations from non-diners. 

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