Arlington, VA, April 17, 2018 – Meals on Wheels America President and CEO Ellie Hollander issued the following statement in response to the recent study published in Health Affairs, “Meal Delivery Programs Reduce The Use Of Costly Health Care In Dually Eligible Medicare And Medicaid Beneficiaries”:
Home-delivered meals can make a real difference in improving health outcomes while reducing escalating healthcare expenditures among vulnerable individuals. The recently published study in Health Affairs showed an association between receiving meal delivery and lower rates of costly healthcare services among Medicare-Medicaid dual eligible individuals. This study expands a body of research that yields solid evidence as to why addressing nutrition and other social determinants of health is crucial to improving overall health and well-being and saving on healthcare costs.
Findings from Meals on Wheels America’s own More Than a Meal Randomized Control Pilot Study provide some insights as to how and why home-delivered meals can help keep seniors in their homes and out of far more expensive healthcare settings like nursing homes and emergency rooms, as was evidenced by the Health Affairs study. Meals on Wheels programs offer so much more than just a meal by also delivering socialization, safety checks and connections to other services. These services, provided to more than 2.4 million at-risk seniors each year, are essential in helping them remain healthy and independent in their homes, which results in lower healthcare spending.
Food insecurity and malnutrition are associated with poor health and $77 billion in healthcare costs annually. This is why the core of Meals on Wheels services is the delivery of consistent, nutritious meals. Access to good nutrition is critical as older adults are often at risk of poor nutrition given the myriad of biological, social, economic and functional challenges that often accompany aging and limit a senior’s ability to acquire, prepare and consume nutritious foods. Indeed, research findings suggest that receiving Meals on Wheels services reduces food insecurity rates by up to 28%.
Recognizing the interconnectedness of social determinants of health, many home-delivered meal services also take a broader, person-centered approach, addressing clients’ holistic needs. For example, socialization is a key component of Meals on Wheels programs’ success. Research has shown that older adults who eat alone experience poorer health, and that malnourishment and social isolation are interrelated issues among seniors. Research linking social isolation with mental health, chronic illness and mortality elucidates why the reduction seen in loneliness among Meals on Wheels clients may go a long way toward cutting into the $6.7 billion price tag AARP found to be attributable to social isolation.
Friendly visits also play a crucial role in helping seniors feel secure in their homes. Meals delivered by a volunteer and/or staff member provide critical eyes and ears in the senior’s home, enabling them to identify and address safety or other hazards. These visits provide the critical human connection necessary to reduce the sense of isolation, which is known to be associated with negative health consequences and higher healthcare costs.
Falls among seniors is another major healthcare cost, at an estimated $50 billion annually. Malnutrition is a significant risk factor for falls among older adults. This may be why, according to our More Than a Meal Pilot Research Study, for every three older adults with a previous fall, Meals on Wheels services help to prevent one additional fall.
The Health Affairs study, which partnered a healthcare provider with local home-delivered meal services, also highlights the importance of bridging the gaps between healthcare providers and home- and community- based programs. Meals on Wheels programs play a unique role in building a trusted relationship with individuals receiving services, not only through the delivery of nutritious meals and the provision of important socialization and safety checks, but also by facilitating access to appropriate community services as an individual’s needs change over time. A pilot study testing the influence of home-delivered meals delivered by Meals on Wheels on healthcare utilization found that post-discharge costs were reduced by 31% for beneficiaries of a Medicare Advantage plan, and nearly 30% of those receiving meals were referred to additional services1.
Meals on Wheels America commends the important work of Seth A. Berkowitz, Jean Terranova, Caterina Hill, Toyin Ajayi, Todd Linsky, Lori W. Tishler and Darren A. DeWalt, as this study is a critical step toward quantifying the true value of home-delivered meals – not only for improving the health and well-being of a rapidly growing senior population, but also for the financial health and vitality of the healthcare industry. We are committed to advancing the research in this area.
About Meals on Wheels America
Meals on Wheels America is the leadership organization supporting the more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that are dedicated to addressing senior isolation and hunger. This network serves virtually every community in America and, along with more than two million staff and volunteers, delivers the nutritious meals, friendly visits and safety checks that enable America’s seniors to live nourished lives with independence and dignity. By providing funding, leadership, education, research and advocacy support, Meals on Wheels America empowers its local member programs to strengthen their communities, one senior at a time. For more information, or to find a Meals on Wheels provider near you, visit www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org.
Jenny Bertolette Young
Meals on Wheels America
Miller, Gail. Presentation before Aging Options in Aging Conference sponsored by the Administration on Aging, December 2006.