Thousands of Californians who struggle with serious illness will soon find it easier to eat healthy meals that are just right for the nutrition challenges unique to their diseases. Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed California SB 97 into law, funding a first-of-its-kind healthy food pilot project for low-income Californians with chronic health diseases. The program will use $6 million over three years to help Medi-Cal recipients who suffer from congestive heart failure, cancer, diabetes, or renal disease access medically-tailored, high-quality meals.
The pilot is modeled off a medically-tailored meal intervention implemented by Philadelphia-based nonprofit MANNA, which showed that health costs for 65 patients with serious chronic illness dropped dramatically once the patients started eating medically-tailored meals and were 55% lower than for a control group.
“All of the emerging research points to nutrition as a core component of outcome-driven, cost-effective health care,” said Robert Greenwald, Clinical Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School, which monitors, researches and promotes efforts to integrate food and nutrition interventions into health care. “To have this type of innovation implemented within a state’s Medicaid program is a huge step forward, and will truly help those who are most in need while reducing costs to the state over time.”
To provide these complex meals to patients, Medi-Cal will rely on California nonprofits with years of expertise in preparing and delivering medically-tailored meals, including:
- Project Open Hand in San Francisco
- Mama’s Kitchen in San Diego
- Project Angel Food in Los Angeles
- Ceres Community Project and Food for Thought in the North Bay Area
- Health Trust in San Jose
Together (and with sister organizations in other states), these organizations form the Food is Medicine Coalition which serves meals to those who are seriously ill. Coalition members are engaged in research across the country to further prove the efficacy and value of the medically-tailored meal intervention.
California Senator Mike McGuire credits his meetings with the Food is Medicine Coalition for inspiring his crusade that has now secured state funding for this critical pilot. “The bottom line,” said Senator McGuire, “[is that] we believe, over the next three years, we’ll demonstrate enhanced health outcomes for chronically ill Medi-Cal patients and save millions in health care costs.” California State Assemblymembers David Chiu and Blanca E. Rubio also provided critical support for the pilot.
“This is an exciting time for our agencies and those very vulnerable, critically ill Californians we serve,” said Project Open Hand CEO Mark Ryle. “We are particularly thrilled that the California legislature had the vision to launch the very first statewide, medically-tailored meal program in the United States. California is once again leading the nation in implementing low cost/high return medical interventions to improve the health of our most marginalized and underserved citizens.”