Addressing some of the social determinants of health can boost patient outcomes and help lower overall health care costs. Along these lines, researchers have found that home-delivered meals are a big deterrent to hospital readmissions.
Lack of access to nutritious food for people who are dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid is a problem that likely leads to higher readmission rates, according the study, “Meal Delivery Programs Reduce The Use Of Costly Health Care In Dually Eligible Medicare And Medicaid Beneficiaries,” which was published in April issue of Health Affairs.
Home-delievered meals—both that were tailored to medical needs and meals that were not—were found to help curtail the use of some costly health services for this patient population.
The study looked at 133 participants who received medically tailored meals and 624 participants who received non-tailored food, and compared them against unmatched controls. Participants in both programs were associated with lower emergency department (ED) visits, inpatient admissions and uses of emergency transportation.
For in-home care providers, the results may reveal an opportunity to make other inroads with partners across the care continuum. Meal preparation and delivery could help health systems and hospitals further reduce health care costs and improve patients outcomes. Services like Milo—a venture from senior living giant Holiday Retirement—already include meal delivery as a core offering to help people age in place.
“This study focused on a particularly high risk group of patients with a high intensity service,” Seth Berkowitz, lead author of the study, told Home Health Care News. “Though this study doesn’t specifically address it, I do think there is potential for home care services to address food insecurity and nutrition in patients, and that this should be tested in future studies.”
Berkowitz is assistant professor of medicine in the division of general medicine and clinical epidemiology in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The study comes at a time when more benefits are being evaluated for Medicare Advantage patients. Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced non-skilled in-home supports could be added to MA plans starting 2019.
The expansion of supplemental benefits for these plans, which outsource coverage to private insurers, could eventually even provide healthy groceries to patients.
“Health care providers should be aware that this study suggests addressing issues like food insecurity can lead to health benefits,” Berkowitz said.
However, the issue of food insecurity is one that should be tackled with a greater, system-wide approach for the most success, particularly in population health models, Berkowitz argued.
“More importantly, however, I think these issues really need to be addressed on a systems-level, rather than at the level of individual providers,” Berkowitz said. “As health systems move towards a population management approach where they are responsible for the health of a group of patients in a non-visit based way, I think they will have to find ways to address needs, like food insecurity, that they haven’t tackled before.”
Written by Amy Baxter