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NGA Urges CMS To Address Disparities With Healthy Benefit Cards

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The National Grocers Association (NGA) has submitted comments to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), highlighting critical gaps in healthy benefit card access in the Medicare Advantage (MA) supplemental benefits for the chronically ill (SSBCI) food program.

In its comments, NGA underscores the exclusion of independent grocers from healthy benefit cards and calls for transparency and standardization to enhance benefit accessibility for independent grocers and the communities they serve.

The growth of SSBCI food programs has introduced “healthy benefit cards,” which allow MA plan participants to receive a monthly grocery stipend. However, these cards are predominantly accepted only at large grocery chains, leaving independent grocers excluded despite their efforts to upgrade technology and comply with program requirements. This exclusion negatively impacts MA plan participants and the local economies these grocers support.

[RELATED: NGA Unveils Online Toolkit To Help Independents Accept Healthy Benefit Cards]

NGA’s comments to CMS emphasize the need for:

  • Transparency and standardization: Releasing an approved food list for SSBCI to facilitate compliance by independent grocers. If no such list exists, NGA suggests using current SNAP and WIC food lists.
  • Data collection and reporting: Requiring MA plans to report the amounts of benefits allotted and redeemed, and the fees charged by third-party processors. This data will highlight market size and redemption rates, ensuring transparency and equitable access.
  • Fee assessment: Evaluating the fees imposed by third-party processors on healthy benefit card transactions to prevent excessive charges that diminish the value of benefits.
  • Regulatory oversight: Investigating payments from food manufacturers and grocers to processors for priority on approved food lists and ensuring SSBCI programs are standardized to work in all grocery stores where MA participants shop.

“Independent grocers have been frontliners in implementing federal food programs like SNAP, WIC, Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentives Program (GusNIP) and produce prescriptions, all contributing positively to health outcomes. The exclusion of independent grocers from healthy benefit card programs disrupts long-standing customer relationships and threatens the viability of these essential community businesses,” said NGA VP of Government Relations Stephanie Johnson.

“We urge CMS to use its authority to regulate and improve this important program to ensure that participants can use their benefits at their preferred local grocery stores. We look forward to continuing our work with CMS, MA plans and third-party processors to bridge this gap and deliver the promised benefits to those who need them most.”

To read NGA’s full comments, click here.

About the author

Sommer Stockton

Web Editor

Sommer joined The Shelby Report in January 2022 after graduating from Brenau University in Gainesville, GA with a B.A. and M.A. in Communications and Media Studies. Sommer is excited to learn about the grocery industry and share her findings with The Shelby Report's readers!

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