The National Grocers Association held a first meeting June 8 to discuss solutions for providing access to healthy benefit cards in high-need communities served by independent grocers.
The association convened 30 stakeholders from across the healthy benefit card industry, including health insurance companies, payment networks, point-of-sale system providers and independent community grocers.
Healthy benefit programs, which have grown in recent years, provide eligible customers with a financial boost to help them pay for essential daily needs, including food, medicine and other over-the-counter products. Benefits are administered as cards provided by payment networks who contract with health insurance companies.
To receive a card, customers must be enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan that offers the benefit.
While the cards provide a valuable benefit across the nation, just a handful of retailers are set up to accept them as payment.
NGA spearheaded the meeting to discuss the issue, explore possible solutions and urge cooperation among the groups to reach a resolution by the end of the third quarter.
“Healthy Benefit Card programs underscore the integral role that food plays in overall health. By combining affordability, accessibility and nutritional support, independent grocers can empower individuals to make informed choices about their health and well-being,” Stephanie Johnson, VP of government relations, said in a statement.
“We appreciate the opportunity to convene these important stakeholders and look forward to building consensus around ways in which we can achieve broad access for independent grocers and their customers.”
Earlier this year, NGA penned an open letter, signed by 1,695 independent grocers, to key healthy benefit card stakeholders, urging that a broader variety of retailers accept the cards.
The letter reads, in part, “Millions of Americans who rely on independent grocers, many of whom are in rural and low-income areas, find themselves struggling to use a benefit that could change their lives for the better.
“Many of those same customers are the same people who would benefit most from these healthy benefit cards. Some don’t have the luxury of traveling to the big stores that accept these cards because they’re too far away, and the benefit is wasted.
“We are hearing daily from independent grocers who are forced to turn away loyal customers of many years with full carts left at the register because they cannot accept these restricted-spend cards.”