September 7, 2022

Creating Equitable Access and Coverage of Medically Tailored Meals

Malnutrition is increasingly identified in the inpatient setting and is common in people with medical conditions. In fact, approximately 2.2 million hospital stays involve malnutrition and patients have 2 times longer hospital stays than patients with no malnutrition and are at a higher risk of complications[1]. Our program at MANNA provides full nutrition support that includes medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling to support individuals with disease-associated malnutrition.

In August, the Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, released a comprehensive report to inform the upcoming White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health taking place on September 28.  The report includes a series of policy recommendations and actions to further advance the goals of the conference. MANNA was pleased to see that a top recommendation is focused on providing individuals with increased access to Food is Medicine interventions as part of treatment for nutrition-related disease to improve health, reduce health disparities, and lower healthcare costs.


Accelerate Access to Food is Medicine Programs as Part of Treatment for Diet-related Illnesses

The Task Force envisions a future where Food is Medicine programs – like MANNA – that offer medically tailored meals are covered healthcare benefits for targeted populations to improve clinical care for diet-related illness, especially for patients experiencing disease-associated malnutrition.

Through MANNA’s research, we have shown that clients who are prescribed a specialized diet and received medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling, lowered their monthly healthcare costs and hospitalization rates and their hospital stays were shorter. To advance these findings, there are opportunities to leverage MANNA’s original research and to further show the effectiveness of MANNA’s program through opportunities for demonstration projects in Medicaid and Medicare.

In fact, on November 16, 2022, we recognize Medically Tailored Meals Action Day – a day for all individuals to contact their member of Congress and request they cosponsor H.R. 5370- The Medically Tailored Home-Delivered Meal Demonstration Pilot Act of 2021. The bill is focused on establishing a Medicare pilot program to ensure that seniors receive medically tailored meals after hospital discharge for diet-impacted diseases such as heart failure, diabetes, and kidney disease, among others. The goals of the demonstration project are improved health outcomes, lower cost of care, and increased patient satisfaction for medically vulnerable seniors.

And to bring further awareness to malnutrition, the MANNA Institute has partnered with ASPEN, the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, for ASPEN Malnutrition Awareness Week from September 19-23. As an ambassador, we are helping increase awareness of nutrition’s role in patient illness and recovery.


Provide Insurance Coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy to Improve Disease Management

MANNA believes proper nutrition is the basis of good health and, as part of the MANNA model, we offer nutrition counseling by our registered dietitians to educate and empower our clients and others to make the best food choices for their specific medical condition.

However, Medicare coverage for medical nutrition therapy provided by a registered dietitian that includes nutrition counseling is not a mandatory benefit and is only limited to patients with diabetes and chronic kidney disease. Ultimately, this leaves millions of older Americans with diet-related diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, pre-diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, gastrointestinal disease, and malnutrition without access to nutrition counseling.

The Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health report recommends that  Congress expand Medicare  coverage for nutrition counseling provided by a registered dietitian for individuals with these diet-related illnesses by passing the Medical Nutrition Therapy Act – an act that provides Medicare Part B coverage of outpatient medical nutrition therapy.  Improving access to nutrition counseling by registered dietitians can also help decrease health inequities.

Medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling programs are cost-effective and reduce malnutrition risk. With the White House Conference approaching, now is the opportunity for members of Congress to create a food system that is equitable and focused on nutrition to help the health and quality of life for Americans who experience diet-related illness. Our medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling by our registered dietitians have benefitted our clients the 30+ years that MANNA has been serving our community. We will continue to advocate for the change we need to see across our nation to have medically tailored meals be a mandated, covered benefit that’s accessible to all.