5 Things About Meal Delivery Programs to Improve Health

The cost of food insecurity in excess healthcare costs has been listed at $77 billion a year. Implementing meal delivery programs to improve health outcomes and lower costs has gained traction nationwide. Here are 5 things to know.

The cost of food insecurity in excess healthcare costs has been listed at $77 billion a year. As a result, implementing meal delivery programs to improve health outcomes and lower costs has gained traction nationwide. Here are 5 things to know.

1. Food programs keep those on Medicare and Medicaid out of the emergency department

A study published in Health Affairs narrowed in on the impact of meal delivery programs on those dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. A medically tailored meals program was associated with 1.5 fewer emergency department (ED) visits, .3 fewer inpatient admissions, and 1.14 fewer uses of emergency transportation. Researchers observed that a nontailored meal program was also associated with fewer ED visits and emergency transportation usage.

By keeping the patient population out of the ED, the meal programs also led to decreased medical spending. Taking into account the cost of the program, those participating in the medically tailored meals program saved $220 per month. While those participating in the nontailored meal program saw less savings, they still came out with $10 of savings per month.

2. Food programs improve transition outcomes following discharge from the hospital

In Maine, the Maine Medical Center and the Southern Maine Agency on Aging collaborated to provide medically appropriate meals to Medicare patients transitioning from the hospital through Simply Delivered for ME. The voluntary meal delivery program was offered to high-risk Medicare patients already enrolled in the Community-based Care Transition Program.

Of the 622 patients who participated in the meal delivery program, the 30-day readmissions rate was 10.3% for all-cause readmissions, compared to 16.6% at baseline. Cost savings associated with lower readmissions totaled $212,160.

3. They provide nutritious meals and a sense of community

Efforts nationwide have been launched to not just address food insecurity but to also address it with healthy options. Last year, California authorized a $6 million pilot project to make people healthier and, in turn, reduce chronic illnesses. Participants get heart-healthy meals delivered to their doorstep.

MANNA, a Philadelphia-based organization, has been delivering home-cooked meals to people living with HIV and other chronic diseases since 1990. With a mantra of “food is medicine,” the organization delivers a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner to nearly 200 people around the city.

The menu includes medically appropriate meals to help those who have short-term nutritional risk or acute nutritional risk, offering 11 different diet modifications, such as: low-lactose, low spice, and a soft diet for those with poor dentition. Each week, when the meals are delivered, participants are greeted by a friendly and familiar face and are asked about their health.

4. They reach the isolated and the poor

Mobile food banks, like the one in west Alabama, are providing those who can’t reach a grocery store—or who may not be able to afford a trip to the store—with meals delivered right to their door step. These mobile food banks are a result of recognition that food pantries and soup kitchens tend to be in densely populated cities and that the model does not work in rural counties, where settlement is sparse.

According to Feeding America, rural counties make up 79% of the worst food insecurity rates. The West Alabama Food Bank serves 9 rural counties where more than 15% of the residents fall below the federal poverty line and where some counties have just 3 grocery stores.

5. There’s now a way to pay for meals

With increased recognition of the importance of addressing food insecurity also comes a way to pay for it. In May, CMS finalized a rule that allows Medicare Advantage plans to be reimbursed for supplemental benefits that can enhance health outcomes, like providing specialized meals. The rule came after Congress passed the CHRONIC Act, which allowed Medicare to pay for these social supports.

In an interview with The American Journal of Managed Care®, Brenda Schmidt, founder and CEO of Solera Health, explained that the movement toward Food is Medicine has allowed organizations like Feeding America, which began as an effort to address hunger by eliminating food waste, to make the transition to addressing the obesity epidemic.

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