In both the public and private sectors, a growing movement is working to integrate food as part of medical treatment – and have health care payers foot the bill.

From the administration’s granting of Medicaid waivers to Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Oregon to use state and federal money to pay for food for some beneficiaries to Congress tucking $2 million into an appropriations bill for a “food is medicine pilot program” to the NIH developing a $140 million grant program that will lead to the designation of “food is medicine centers of excellence,” providers and policy-makers are showing unprecedented interest in the effects of nutrition on health and questioning whether medicine alone meets the needs of patients.  Some Medicare and Medicaid patients already receive what are known as “medically-tailored meals” or “medically-tailored groceries” and some Medicare Advantage plans are offering food and produce benefits to members with certain chronic medical conditions.

Impeding further development of greater use of food as medicine, and as a possible means of addressing social determinants of health and facilitating greater health equity, are the lack of research into the effectiveness of such endeavors; the lack of integration of food into medical practice; and the cost of such benefits and the question of who will pay for them.

Greater use of food as medicine would be a significant benefit for patients served by community safety-net hospitals, who often lack the resources to purchase the nutritious food they need to help address their health challenges.

Learn more about food and medicine, its prospects, and its challenges from the Stat News article “Can food be medicine?  Will insurers cover it?  And other big questions about a new health movement” and the Axios report “Medicaid for food draws mixed reviews.”