Have you ever heard the phrase, “You have to spend money to make money”? Medicare is discovering something similar when it comes to helping beneficiaries recently released from hospitalizations. If Medicare were to provide home-delivered, healthy meals to recovering beneficiaries, it could save the program millions of dollars every year.
The Bipartisan Policy Center ran the study with the help of Ananya Health Innovations, a health policy consulting firm, to determine how a meal-delivery benefit would affect Medicare.
The team looked at the cases of almost 600,000 Medicare beneficiaries who had a cumulative total of about 1 million hospital stays between them in 2016. Most of these patients were over the age of 75, and all of them had at least two chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart failure, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s. After leaving the hospital, these patients were increasingly susceptible to injuries in the home due to difficulties performing self-care tasks like bathing, getting dressed, and cooking.
Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, says the data supports this benefit: “There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that home-delivered meals can play a role in preventing unwanted emergency room visits and hospitalizations. People who deliver meals can check to be sure patients are relatively stable, taking their medications, and… have appropriate nutrition to support their recovery.”
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How much Medicare would save
The study found that for every dollar spent on delivering healthy meals to recovering seniors, the program would save $1.57. By providing healthy meals for seniors in recovery, Medicare would cut costs because it reduces additional accidents that could happen while these patients are trying to heal from illness or injury.
Medicare would need to spend about $101 million to provide healthy meals for all high-needs patients, but it would save the program more than $158 million, netting about $57 million in savings.
The researchers also projected that home-delivered, healthy meals could cut readmission rates down by 10,000 cases. However, this number could be even larger in reality because the study did not account for emergency room visits or stays in nursing homes.
Medicare Advantage redefines healthcare
Some Medicare Advantage plans have already begun such services for qualified beneficiaries. In addition to home-delivered, healthy meals, these plans may also provide minor home improvements to increase the patient’s safety, like grab bars in the bathroom.
These changes came early last year when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) authorized Medicare Advantage plans to expand their definition of healthcare. Taking on a more holistic view, many plans are offering more services that are not directly considered medical treatment. Other services may include things like air conditioners for people with asthma and non-emergency medical transportation using ride-share services like Lyft.
Meals on Wheels
Although it’s not covered by Medicare, Meals on Wheels is a nutrition program that feeds homebound seniors and people with certain disabilities. With over 5,000 programs operating across the United States, Meals on Wheels feeds more than 2.4 Americans every year by delivering food, providing socialization, and sometimes assisting in everyday household tasks.
If you are unable to pay for the program, don’t worry. No one will be denied service because they are unable to pay. Meals on Wheels often operates on a sliding payment scale, and some programs accept food stamps. Each program creates its own payment policy as well as eligibility guidelines, so check with your local program to see if you qualify.
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Medicare doesn’t cover everything. Luckily, those on Medicare can now start saving on out of pocket expenses like prescription drugs, dental, vision, hearing, and more. Over 1 million people have already received their free Medicare Plus Card.