The Biden administration has started allowing state Medicaid funds to be used to pay for groceries and dietary advice in an effort to promote better overall health and wellness among the population and to decrease the need for expensive medical interventions.
Supporters of the effort, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, believe that utilizing medical funds for food programs will help improve the overall health of Americans, and will ultimately lead to better nutritional habits, fewer medical visits, and less pressure on the U.S. health care system.
Critics argue that expanding Medicaid to pay for food is unnecessary and redundant, because the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, already helps disadvantaged people buy groceries. Stretching Medicaid’s purpose beyond medical services will ultimately grow the federal government and make recipients more dependent on new offerings, they say.
However, the Biden administration effort could get support from some Republicans who want to see states have more control of their Medicaid programs, the Journal reported. Some Republicans also see the financial and philosophical appeal of promoting nutrition, perhaps to avoid over-prescribing pharmaceuticals and to reduce hospital visits.
“There needs to be a bigger emphasis on how dowe start encouraging people to make good healthy choices,” Senator Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, told the Journal. “And that budget-wise is going to save us money in the long term.”
Marshall is a doctor who has supported legislation to create a meals program under Medicare in which patients would receive certain foods as part of their treatment regimen. Different from Medicaid, Medicare an entitlement program for seniors that is funded by Social Security tax contributions.
GOP Representative Glenn Thompson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, is skeptical of the “food as medicine” approach but told the Journal he is willing to explore the idea.
“In Washington sometimes, bright shiny things get a lot of attention and sometimes a lot of financial resources,” he said. “Let’s look at what the needs are.”
The Biden administration has made several efforts to expand Medicaid, including adding millions of new recipients to the program’s rolls. In some states, Medicaid is covering air conditioners to combat extreme heat, up to six months of rent, and filtration devices that improve air quality, the Journal reported. In August, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that allows Medicaid funds to be used to facilitate travel for women seeking abortions to states where the procedure is still legal, likely violating the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the federal financing of abortion.
In April, states will reexamine the Medicaid eligibility of its enrollees, many of whom received benefits during the pandemic because the program suspended eligibility reviews and improper-payment assessments in 2020. Medicaid was designed as a program for the most vulnerable Americans such as low-income pregnant women, children, and people with disabilities.