There may be a health plan near you that uses “food as medicine.” More states are trying out Medicaid programmes that will give more people access to healthy foods and could lower the cost of health care.
Medicaid usually only pays for medical costs, but the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) gave Arkansas, Oregon, and Massachusetts permission last year to use some of their Medicaid funds to pay for food programmes, such as medically tailored meals, groceries, and produce prescriptions (fruit and vegetable prescriptions or vouchers provided by medical professionals for people with diet-related diseases or food insecurity). California was already running a food programme, but it had to get approval from CMS in a different way. The goal is to find out if giving people healthy foods can help prevent, manage, and treat diseases that are caused by what they eat.
At a hearing in December, Indiana Senator Mike Braun said, “A lot of what’s wrong with our health care system is that we use it too much. This is because we haven’t changed the lifestyles that bring us to the health care system in the first place, and that starts with your diet.”
What does it mean to use food as medicine?
Even though different methods will be tried, doctors in Massachusetts and California can send patients who are having trouble getting food as medicine to a local food assistance organisation to find out what they need. That could lead to gift cards for grocery stores, cooking classes, nutrition counselling, or a service that brings “medically tailored meals” to patients’ homes. People are checked on every three months in Massachusetts.
In November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spent $59.4 million to help support what are called “produce prescriptions” for fresh fruits and vegetables from a health care provider.
Does healing with food work?
At a hearing in December, Dan Glickman, co-chair of the Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, said, “It is clear that what we eat affects our health and our chances of dying.”
A study that came out last fall said that if all U.S. patients with mobility problems and diet-related diseases got medically tailored meals, it would prevent 1.6 million hospitalisations and save $13.6 billion each year.
In 2019, another study found that the meals led to 49% fewer hospital admissions and a 16% drop in health care costs over the course of a year compared to a control group of patients who did not get the meals.