Study suggests states could cut health care costs by delivering patient tailored meals

In the United States, medically tailored meal (MTM) programs have the potential to significantly reduce health care costs and hospitalizations across most states, according to new research. These programs provide ready-to-eat meals directly to patients with diet-sensitive conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and HIV, whose ability to prepare meals is limited. The meals are designed by dietitian nutritionists based on each patient’s health conditions and nutritional needs.

The study, conducted by Shuyue Deng of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, used computer models to estimate the benefits of MTM programs against their implementation costs. The findings, to be presented at NUTRITION 2024, suggest that such programs could generate net cost savings across states except for Alabama. Connecticut was estimated to have the largest net annual savings per patient treated ($6,219), while Oregon saw the lowest ($651).

To reach these conclusions, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 7 million U.S. adults with diet-sensitive chronic diseases and modeled the expected change in annual health program costs, hospitalizations, and healthcare expenditures in each state. They estimated the impact based on previously reported MTM programs that provided around 10 meals per week for about eight months each year.

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, Ph.D., a co-author of the study, suggests that state-level policymakers and health plan administrators could consider incorporating MTMs into their health care strategies, including Medicaid 1115 waivers, Medicare Shared Savings programs, Accountable Care Organizations, and commercial insurance plans. Future research will examine additional factors that contribute to the variation in program costs to further refine the projections and inform decision-making.

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