Healthy Benefits Cards Open Letter to Stakeholders

NGA is working on a multi pronged approach to allow independents to accept healthy benefit cards funded by insurance companies.

Raise your voice in sharing how this issue is impacting your business and the individuals in you communities. This letter will be sent to the healthy benefit card stakeholders including health insurance companies, payment processors, and point-of-sale system providers.


Assist in this fight and please sign on to the letter below.

Healthier eating habits are proven to help older adults, at-risk populations, and those with chronic diseases, and that’s why a growing number of health plans are providing incentive cards to promote the purchase of nutritious foods, produce, and other items found in the grocery store.

These Healthy Benefit Cards were designed so customers can go to grocery stores, fill their carts up with fruits, vegetables and other healthy choices with minimal hassle.

It’s a visionary concept, but many customers are encountering a big problem when it comes time to swipe the card: they look like credit cards, and might even have the Visa logo, but they don’t work that way. They’re only accepted by a handful of the big grocery store chains.

As a result, 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 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. Imagine the frustration and embarrassment of a customer at the front of a checkout line who has to wait for a cashier to fetch a manager who gives them the bad news that their card is no good.

Some independent grocers who support older adult communities — the primary participants in these programs — have suddenly seen a double-digit drop in customers. In effect, these cards are dictating where a person can — and cannot — shop.

Industry participants have been told that there is a solution, but it is complex and would single out customers at the register.  The exclusion of independent grocers from the healthy benefit programs widens the uneven playing field with dominant food retailers, and it ensures that many customers will no longer have the option to shop local and pump money back into their own communities.

Projections show these benefits are expected to climb significantly over the next few years, and that might well change the face of grocery shopping in America. 

This issue is creating an unnecessary quandary for consumers, and a growing crisis for independent grocers already fighting hard in these tough economic times.

We write today to ask that you come together to address this issue, to guarantee broad access for people across the United States who need these benefits, and to ensure fair competition across the grocery industry. 

A bold idea program that will improve lives is being hobbled by unforeseen complications. The problem is no one’s fault, but everyone’s responsibility to fix. When your customers — and ours — are healthier, it’s a win for all of us.