For years, the health care system has utilized a remedial approach to health care rather than preventative, with health insurance plans covering a variety of medical procedures, prescription medications and visits to the doctor. The focus is now turning to include food as well, in recognition of the larger and important role that proper nutrition plays in cultivating improved general health and acting as a form of prevention-based medicine. There is increased interest in using food as a kind of medicine, especially in patients who suffer from conditions that could be especially worsened by malnutrition such as high blood sugar or blood pressure, with the goal of helping them maintain better general health and reduce their need for hospital care.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, health insurers were worried that members’ fridges and pantries weren’t sufficiently stocked with enough nutritious food to help them get through quarantine. There was also concern around the idea that poor nutrition would leave members insufficiently equipped to cope with the pandemic and may increase readmissions to the hospital. With growing interest in using healthy and nutritious food as a form of preventative care, health insurers are now expanding coverage to encompass increased access to nutritious food for customers.
Medicare Advantage plans may now include supplemental, general, health-related benefits such as healthy groceries, meal-deliveries and even education for members on how to prepare healthy food at home. Next year, Medicare is expected to start testing meal program vouchers for members struggling with malnutrition and health issues that go along with it. Certain insurance plans also include temporary meal deliveries to enable released patients to have access to nutritious food upon their return home from the hospital. Benefits may even include meals that cater to patients with various conditions that would be specifically worsened or exacerbated by poor nutrition such as diabetes.
According to sources, there has been a shift in the central attitude towards the concept of what proper health care is and what it entails. There is perhaps some concern that these additional health programs and benefits may cause increases in the price of plans. However, the feeling is that customers could ultimately, potentially save money in the long run, as these supplemental benefits could help them maintain improved, long-term general health. Proper nutrition could play a key role in helping prevent various conditions from emerging and current conditions from worsening, and therefore, prevent expensive hospital stays as well.
These additional health-related benefits and programs are still in their early stages and small-scale as of late, mostly limited to government-funded programs like Medicaid or Medicare Advantage. According to sources as of 2020, approximately 7 million people were enrolled in a Medical Advantage plan that included food and meal benefits. It is no secret how crucial proper food and nutrition is to improved general health. These introductions and additions in health care reveal that attitudes towards health care are evolving, and may help improve people's general health to live healthier, happier and more nutritious lives.
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