Food Bank Box - © Montgomery County FB

Sunday Musings: ‘Food Prescriptions’ Fight Insecurity

What does an MD do when pills don’t work to alleviate chronic conditions? Now, there is another kind of prescription that California medical practitioners can write. So-called Food Prescriptions get food insecure folks a box of healthy food every two weeks…

Food Prescriptions - © 2023 Los Angeles Food BankA volunteer prepares to deliver another 25 lb. / 11.3 kg box of
healthy foods to a food prescription program member…

A win-win-win proposition

They call it a ‘food prescription experiment’. It’s running in several California constituencies now, and is already a permanent fixture in other locales across the U.S. And it promises to address three issues with one initiative: alleviate chronic health conditions, lower health care costs and reduce hunger.

A study submitted to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine says the program could save $100 billion on health care over the lifetimes of current Medicare and Medicaid clients.

Simply eating healthier has produced significant results in other states. Participants have reported lower obesity, lower blood pressure and lower average blood sugar.

Food banks, state programs tie in

The most deeply integrated food prescription programs connect with community food banks, and county and state assistance programs. In some cases, the food banks offer free cooking lessons to show recipients how to get the most out of the food packages they are given.

In fact, one of the main problems in getting food prescription programs started is obtaining the participation of those complementary agencies. “The vast majority of them don’t even know how produce prescriptions work,” said Brent Ling, director of external affairs at the nonprofit Wholesome Wave. “So it’s a lot of education and information sharing.”

Overarching support

A state bill is on the process of being passed, but has been held up in committee. When passed, Bill 1644 it will require that medically supportive food and nutrition orders – food prescriptions – be covered by Medi-Cal for at least 12 weeks for eligible residents.

The Medi-Cal web page defines the program as, “a public health insurance program which provides needed health care services for low-income individuals including families with children, seniors, persons with disabilities, foster care, pregnant women, and low income people with specific diseases such as tuberculosis, breast cancer, or HIV/AIDS.  Medi-Cal is financed equally by the state​ and federal government.​

So, it’s a natural fit. But it’s the cost that stalled the bill. Implementation is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars a year. Supporters say they’ll reintroduce the bill next year and try again. The bill’s proposer, Oakland Democrat Mia Bonta, says: “Too many Californians, particularly Californians of color, are living with largely preventable chronic conditions.”

The question is…

Is the estimated cost of the program worth the savings on health care costs?

How does one put a price on helping food-insecure folks lead healthier, happier lives?

Do you agree that prescribing food instead of pills is a viable way to achieve the goals claimed by program supporters?

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.