Prescription Vegetables? The Potential of Insurance-Covered Healthy Food
Any child over the age of six months who visited the Hurley Children’s Center in downtown Flint was qualified to redeem a $15 prescription that could be filled at the city’s Fulton Street Farmers Market or a YMCA Veggie Van. Nutritious food, it was reasoned, is the best medicine — and if young Americans are going to grow up healthy, they need to eat healthily.
Now, a team of doctors and public health experts say that it’s time for adult Americans to receive food prescriptions as well, but on a national scale. A study released Wednesday in PLOS Medicine — “Cost-effectiveness of financial incentives for improving diet and health through Medicare and Medicaid” — provides compelling evidence for the distribution of food prescriptions and subsidies via Medicare and Medicaid, the largest U.S. federal health insurance programs that together cover 1 in 3 Americans.
Using a nationally representative data set of US adults aged between 35 and 80 years, and a validated model, the team evaluated two scenarios: In the first, Medicare and Medicaid would cover 30 percent of the cost of purchases of only fruits and vegetables. The other model covered 30 percent of the cost of whole grains, nuts, seeds, seafood, and plant oils — in addition to fruits and vegetables.