Food as Medicine in California… and beyond.

By Fasih Hameed MD

At the end of 2021, California will wrap up a 3-year pilot study of Medically Tailored meals for CHF patients. While the data analysis is underway, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has decided to move forward with expansion of the food-as-medicine program. An in-lieu of service (ILOS) benefit through the California Advancing Innovation in Medicaid (CalAIM) program will allow Medi-Cal plans in California to offer medically tailored meals as a covered benefit starting January 2022. While the benefit is optional, 18 of the 21 managed Medi-Cal plans have opted in.  This means that patients with chronic conditions, recently discharged from the hospital, or meeting certain criteria, will be eligible to receive medically tailored meals, including home-delivered meals or grocery boxes.  Up to 21 meals per week will be offered for 12 weeks or longer based on need.  There have been several bills in the state assembly which aim to promote food as medicine, but we hope this exciting move by DHCS will pave the way for other states to create similar programs to address nutrition security.

On the national front, Congressman McGovern (D-MA) has recently introduced HR 5370, the Medically Tailored Home-Delivered Meals Demonstration Pilot Act of 2021, which would fund a pilot of medically tailored meals in fee-for-service Medicare, which currently has no meals benefit. If successful, this could lead to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services  (CMS) making this a standard benefit without the need for a lengthy legislative process.  You can help by asking your local representative to support this important bill.