Grocery Benefits Are a Growing Part of Medicare Advantage Plans. Here’s How One Startup Is Making Them Easier to Use.

November 28, 2023

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A startup has found a niche in matching folks with benefits as more Medicare Advantage plans offer supplemental benefits such as financial help for getting groceries.

The number of Medicare Advantage plans that offer eligible seniors food benefits have shot up to 1,231 this year, compared to just 101 plans in 2019. That’s going to rise to 1,475 plans next year, which captures around a quarter of the market, according to an analysis by consulting firm ATI Advisory.

 

 

Supplemental benefits could make a plan more attractive in a competitive market, but they can be hard to pin down and cash in. Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed that plans should notify members about their remaining benefits by mid-year. Soda Health hopes to simplify them by matching people with personalized benefits that change with their health condition, then issuing them a debit card to spend on participating retailers. The startup works with Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans, and does some work with employers as well.

“This has been a really hot market,” co-founder and CEO Robby Knight told Endpoints News. “We’re on track right now to go from zero retailers throughout the year to 15,000 locations.”

Knight saw 2018 as a starting point for health plans’ race to secure more benefits, when CMS reclassified over-the-counter medicine from an administrative cost to a medical cost.

A year after, Medicare Advantage expanded its supplemental benefits to include meal deliveries after a hospital stay and rides to the doctor.

But it wasn’t until he saw his dad cut pills in half to save money after turning 65 that Knight left his job as head of consumer health innovation at Walmart to build Soda Health in 2021. The startup has raised $36 million to date.

To score partnerships with retailers such as Albertsons, Knight said Soda Health built a way to pay for supplemental benefits that personalizes them and identifies which grocery items count. Otherwise, it can be hard to get sales data from retailers.

“The cost of entry is too steep,” Knight said. As a result, he said, Soda Health’s competitors include gift card payment companies rather than healthcare startups.

Ngai Yeung