Medicare can help fight food insecurity

Enrollment in the 2022 Medicare Advantage (MA) program recently ended, and the focus on Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) has never been more intense. MA plans incorporate new services to treat SDOH agents that can put patients at greater risk of poor outcomes. This includes programs that address food insecurity.

Meal and nutrition benefits are an increasingly popular offering in master’s programs, as evidenced by a recent comparison of 2022 plans. According to Avalere, 68% of 2022 plans include meal benefits, up from 55% in 2021. Meanwhile, 30% of Plans offer food benefits, compared to 17% in 2021. Also, 40% of MA plans offer meal benefits at no charge. Additional cost per member.

However, to ensure members benefit from the benefits of meal and nutrition—and to improve health outcomes—industry leaders must raise awareness about these programs and improve participation among eligible adults.

Food insecurity and epidemic

Food insecurity is not a new problem, but the pandemic has compounded the problem for all age groups, genders and genders. In the Journal of Hunger and the Environment, the researchers explain that “prior to COVID-19, wide disparities in food insecurity were severe with rates higher than the national average for poor households, families with children, single-parent families, and people living alone, and Black and Hispanic-headed households.

With the pandemic, many companies have laid off or furloughed employees, and supply chains have collapsed, causing shortages of everything from paper goods to food.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the nightly closures of restaurants, schools, work sites and many other establishments due to COVID-19 have increased the demand for food at home and created disruptions to the food supply in grocery stores and the charity feeding system. The authors of the same report note that the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in food insecurity and chronic disease—issues they expect to persist even after the pandemic ends.

Food-insecure individuals often face additional challenges due to other SDOHs, such as where they live, their employment status, their age, and their ethnicity. These challenges can create situations in which people must choose between paying for food and meeting other basic needs, including medicine and rent. According to the Root Cause Coalition, 37% of individuals who expressed concern about not having enough to eat reported not having enough money to buy food, and 30% said they used their money to buy other necessities.

The pandemic has exacerbated the already fragile community food security system for many and created unforeseen difficulties, including:

  • New or persistent economic inequality
  • Chronic and acute health conditions
  • Health deterioration due to malnutrition
  • New home stress

Food insecurity disproportionately affects some racial and ethnic groups. For example, a study of two predominantly black low-income neighborhoods in Pittsburgh revealed that food insecurity grew by nearly 80% from March to May 2020. The researchers note that during the first few weeks of COVID-19, certain racial or ethnic groups suffered of food insecurity at a rate “far outpacing the increase in the population of the United States as a whole,” amplifying pre-existing disparities in food security that affect a wide range of health outcomes.

Improve access and increase knowledge of options

Food-insecure individuals are often unaware of their choices for affordable, healthy food, leaving 24% of Americans concerned about getting enough to eat. In particular, elderly people who live in food deserts may choose inexpensive and less healthy food options because they do not know how to access healthy and affordable options.

Hunger and food insecurity are a major problem for the most vulnerable people in our country—a problem that 76% of Americans say should be a top priority for policymakers. For older Americans, master’s programs that are SDOH offer a way to meet the challenges, although many seniors are unaware of the benefits available. Thus, an important first step to addressing the challenges of food insecurity among older Americans is to improve access to existing subsidies that are underutilized or, in some cases, not used at all.

For example, although more MBA programs now include meal benefits, an estimated 5 million seniors are not taking advantage of the nutritional benefits for which they are eligible. The Center for Research and Action on Food shows that the sharing of nutritional benefits among older adults is about 24% nationally; In New York, the state with a relatively high participation rate, 70% of eligible seniors benefit from food assistance; In California, only 19% of eligible adults receive assistance.

In addition to raising awareness of nutritional benefit programs and what is available to them, education can help older adults understand how these initiatives can benefit their health in the short and long term.

One study of 60,000 low-income seniors in Maryland found that participants who took advantage of the nutritional benefits were 23% less likely to be admitted to a nursing home and 4% less likely to be hospitalized than those who did not. Eligible seniors who do not participate in such programs may be at greater risk of hunger and thus hunger-related health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and depression, the Center for Food and Action Research has found.

By working to educate eligible seniors about the benefits of meal and nutrition in their MA plans, the industry has the opportunity to dramatically improve health outcomes for the millions who are food insecure.


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