Prescribing Food Like Medicine Would Save Medicare Millions

By Robert Greenwald and David B. Waters

In the continuing debate about how to control soaring healthcare costs, poor nutrition and lack of access to healthy food are routinely ignored.

This is the case despite the fact that in a country as wealthy as the United States, one in three patients nationwide enters the hospital malnourished, adding a host of additional health challenges to patients’ prognoses and millions in additional health care costs.

By Robert Greenwald and David B. Waters
Malnourished patients are significantly more likely than well-nourished patients to be re-hospitalized and suffer poor outcomes. Malnourished patients’ medications do not work as effectively. They often remain in the hospital longer and in many cases cannot continue critical treatments such as chemotherapy because they are not getting proper nutrition.

Simply put, there is a direct and important connection between nutrition and disease treatment and management. Food is medicine.

Making sure patients have enough of the right kind of food to eat at home — meals that will help them heal — makes economic and social sense. A recent study estimated that if all states had increased by one percent the number of adults age sixty-five or older who received home-delivered meals in 2009, annual savings to states’ Medicaid programs could have exceeded $109 million. However, the problem goes beyond just food-insecurity — many medically prescribed diets are very complex to produce at home and expensive for a low-income household to afford. By tailoring home-delivered meals to individuals’ medical needs and expanding the program to the non-elderly critically ill, the potential for health care savings is vast.

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