Home health care supplier Medline has launched a grocery offering for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
Called the Food Benefit Solution, the service enables Medicare Advantage and managed Medicaid organizations to offer fresh produce, healthy groceries and prepared meals for delivery directly to members’ homes as a supplemental benefit, Northfield, Illinois-based Medline said.
Through the solution, plan members can go online and use their allotted benefits to choose from three food options: a produce box of fresh fruit, vegetables or both; prepared foods boxes of five, seven, 10 or 14 meals; and a variety grocery box including produce, grocery staples, snacks and prepared meals.
Medline noted that the produce is locally and regionally sourced, and the groceries are picked for their healthy ingredients, Similarly, the prepared meals are “medically tailored,” with no additives or fillers, the company said. The produce and prepared meals also are delivered in insulated boxes, ensuring proper temperature levels during transportation and delivery.
To source the food, Medline said it taps a combination of traditional grocery and foodservice distributors, as well as regional and local companies that directly source food and offer food boxes under health-and-wellness programs.
“Access to a food benefit can help members meet their nutritional needs, encourage healthier eating habits and manage and prevent chronic diseases,” Amy Rogers, senior clinical resource manager at Medline, said in a statement. “For health care insurance providers, Medline’s Food Benefit Solution adds healthy food options to Medicare Advantage plans, an attractive ‘extra’ in a competitive market.”
A medical supply manufacturer, distributor and solution provider, Medline is entering the food category because of food’s significance to an individual’s health, Rogers said in an online Q&A about the new Food Benefit Solution.
“Providing healthy food is a cost-effective intervention to improve overall health and decrease chronic disease,” she explained. “Medline utilizes our partnerships and unmatched logistical capabilities to bring healthy food directly to member homes nationwide.”
Rogers also described food benefits as a “huge draw” for Medicare plan members, raising their satisfaction and retention.
“Many older adults are at risk for food insecurity, and relieving that burden is a huge help. The average Medicare beneficiary has access to 43 Medicare Advantage plans. With so many choices, food benefits are a way to distinguish one plan from another and retain members,” she noted. “In 2022, 71% of Medicare Advantage plans offered a home-delivered meal benefit. Research also found that 77% of members enjoy healthy meals more than any other health care-related activity.”
Research also shows that Medicare beneficiaries with access to nutritious food see an 11.6% reduction in health care service use, Medline reported.
“We are confident this new [Food Benefit Solution] program will be a positive addition to our LiveWell OTC program so we can allow plan members to easily use their supplemental benefits on both OTC and food products,” stated Katie Lavelle, director of business development for health plans at Medline. “Food is an attractive, cost-effective benefit, supporting health equity, enhancing the member experience, building loyalty, minimizing the need for end-of-year rebates and reducing overall care costs.”
In the Q&A, Rogers said Medicare Advantage covers over 60 million people, many of whom are grappling with complex health conditions and care needs.
“People who are elderly with disabilities face significant challenges in accessing healthy food,” she stated. “Offering a food program that sends healthy foods directly to a member’s home eliminates the financial and physical barriers to healthy foods, improving overall outcomes and cost of care.”
Solution arises from ‘food as medicine’ movement
Medline’s Food Benefit Solution grew out of a stronger nationwide embrace of the “food as medicine” concept that what people eat influences their well-being. For example, the company cited research finding that a healthy diet contributes to overall wellness; protects against heart disease, diabetes and cancer; and can reduce annual medical costs by an estimated average of over $1,800 per year.
“We know that an investment in healthy food and habits is an investment in future health. Diet-related health conditions cost the U.S. $1.2 trillion each year and are the leading cause of mortality,” according to Rogers. “Food and nutrition programs that provide individuals with medically tailored meals, produce prescriptions and/or medically tailored groceries can make a positive impact on their health and overall cost of care.”
By 2025, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will require Medicare Advantage organizations participating in the value-based insurance design model to offer supplemented benefits in at least two of three health-related social need areas—food, transportation or housing, Medline noted.
In turn, many health insurance plans now offer food benefits to members to improve overall health, Rogers said. Examples of these programs include medically tailored meals, grocery boxes, grocery allowances and produce “prescriptions.”
“Food benefits are sent directly to member homes, helping to eliminate barriers associated with not living near grocery stores (food deserts) and/or a lack of transportation,” she said in the Q&A. “These benefits can also include educational counseling to teach members the impact healthy eating has on their well-being.”
Grocery retailers also have stepped up their participation in “food as medicine” programs, including The Kroger Co., Albertsons Cos., Walmart and Ahold Delhaize USA supermarket chains Food Lion, Giant Food and Stop & Shop. Grocery delivery giant Instacart, too, has rolled out “food as medicine” programs.