August 9, 2022

Medically Tailored Meals: A Transformative Remedy for Overall Health

Did you know that chronic diseases affect over 60% of all Americans, and that most of the country’s annual healthcare dollars are spent on people with one or more chronic health conditions[i]? To further break down the financial impact, 5% of the US population accounts for 50% of overall healthcare costs[ii]. The work we do at MANNA — providing nutritional counseling and delivering wholesome, medically tailored meals to those with critical illnesses and diet-related diseases — enables our clients to better manage their health conditions and reduce overall healthcare costs.

Our experience has shown that patients who are prescribed a specialized diet incur lower healthcare expenses. MANNA’s original research showed that our clients’ average monthly healthcare costs were approximately $13,000 less after starting our service — a 31% cost savings. In addition, those clients’ rate of hospitalization was 50% lower, and those who were hospitalized had stays that were 37% shorter.[iii]

With so much proof, how can there still be ambiguity around the idea of using something readily accessible as part of a patient’s medical treatment or recovery…food?

While research on the power of Food as Medicine speaks for itself, there are undeniable challenges: the cost of nutritious food can sometimes be out of reach for those in need (a point exacerbated by current economic conditions), there is often limited assistance or ongoing support for those who require specialized diets, and the current healthcare system is not equipped to incorporate nutrition as part of the treatment process for all who need it. Including medically tailored meals as a standard covered benefit in Medicaid and Medicare programs would dramatically increase the availability of these services and bring about improved health for individuals who otherwise could not access the nutrition necessary to heal. These services could be billed as a qualified medical cost.

At the upcoming White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, our goal as a member of the Food is Medicine Coalition (FIMC) is to reinforce the need for transformative change in how nutrition is viewed in our healthcare system and to help realize a fully funded, large-scale medically tailored meal pilot in the Medicare program. By educating healthcare leaders and elected officials about the indisputable benefits of comprehensive nutrition services, we can ensure these services become a standard of care across the healthcare system.

Health and food are fundamentally linked. For people who are living with chronic illnesses, or have critical medical conditions, nutritious food is essential to maintaining and regaining health. Every day, we face new challenges in our food system, causing harm to Americans and costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars in preventable healthcare spending every year. The MANNA model has benefitted our clients for decades, and we will continue to advocate for necessary change to address nutrition and health throughout the country.