Payers could save $13.6B annually by covering medically-tailored meals, study finds

If Payers Provided Medically Appropriate Meals to Patients with Health Conditions and Activity Limitations, They Could Save $13.6 Billion a Year, New Study Finds found.

Medically Adapted Meals are fully prepared, nutritious meals delivered to homes and underscore the Food as Medicine trend. They are especially beneficial for people struggling with diet-related conditions like diabetes, heart failure, and cancer.

“In observational studies and pilot randomized clinical trials, patients receiving [medically-tailored meals] experienced better disease management and had fewer hospitalizations, emergency room admissions, nursing home visits, and lower health care expenditures than similar control patients,” the study states. The lead author was Kurt Hager from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

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The study, published in JAMA Network Open, relied on the 2019 Medical Spending Panel Survey for its research. It analyzed the evolution of hospitalizations and health expenditure with the coverage of medically adapted meals for more than 6.3 million adults. The study sample consisted of adults with insurance and at least one food-sensitive condition and limitation in daily living.

It found that if these adults received medically appropriate meals, approximately 1.6 million hospitalizations would have been avoided, saving $38.7 billion in healthcare costs. Programs to provide these meals would have cost $24.8 billion, resulting in net savings of $13.6 billion, according to the report.

If these meals were provided for 10 years, it would prevent nearly 18.3 million hospitalizations and save $484.5 billion in healthcare costs. It would cost $298.7 billion to implement, creating $185.1 billion in net savings.

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Medically adapted meals would be most beneficial for older women: the average age of the sample group was 68.1 years and 63.4% were female. Additionally, 76.5% had Medicare and/or Medicaid.

These meals are currently not covered by Medicaid and Medicare, and bills introduced at the state and federal levels addressing this issue have not passed, according to the report.

“Given the limited coverage of medically appropriate meals nationwide, this treatment is not available to most American individuals who could benefit from it,” the researchers said.

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The study comes after the White House held a conference on hunger, nutrition and health and announced that it had secured $8 billion from public and private organizations for this effort. Kaiser Permanente, an integrated healthcare system, recently engaged $50 million for food and nutrition security as per the White House conference. Part of its investment includes shipping medically appropriate meals to patients recently discharged from hospital with certain diet-related conditions.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation is also investing $3.5 million in food and nutrition security. The investment includes providing medically appropriate meals, according to a White House fact sheet.

Photo: vgajic, Getty Images

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