Many seniors who are discharged from the hospital face enormous challenges in getting get back on their feet. Many won’t have access to the nutritious meals needed for a successful recovery. There’s probably no one there to remove hazards in the home that could lead to additional injuries, and there’s likely no companion to help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety that are exacerbated by illness and isolation.
In the blink of an eye, these rehabilitating seniors become “high risk” — a classification given to 5 percent of those served by health plans each year. Yet, it’s this population that will contribute to 50 percent of the total health care spend because they are unable to remain independent and healthy at home, where they want to be.
Community-based senior nutrition programs are capable of helping to address this lopsided equation by preventing medical emergencies before they happen and reducing Medicare and Medicaid expenses that otherwise get picked up by taxpayers like us. Not only do these programs provide meals that aid in recovery, the volunteer who typically delivers that meal performs a brief safety check and provides the only human connection that a senior may get in a given week.
And, there is strong evidence to show that this lifeline is oftentimes all it takes to keep seniors at home and out of far more costly health care settings.
Pilot studies exploring the value of supporting seniors’ basic recovery needs at home found that home-delivered meals reduced readmission rates to 6 to 7 percent over a 30-day period as compared to the national readmission rate average of 15 to 33 percent.
Studies for the pilot of a five-year transition care program with a large insurance company spanning 36 states and over 135,000 Medicare Advantage beneficiaries showed that post-discharge savings for the first month were substantial, with an average savings of $1,000 per patient per month. That translated to about 33 percent savings per patient served compared to those who did not receive home-delivered meals.
The way forward
The path to significant savings is clear. Instead of placing these seniors in high-cost, long-term care facilities, or hospitalizing and re-hospitalizing them, we need doctors to be able to write prescriptions for preventative nutrition services, and hospitals and rehabilitation facilities to be more proactive about ensuring that nutrition is built into discharge planning.
We need health care payers to step up to partner with these community-based senior nutrition providers to improve health outcomes, reduce health care utilization and lower costs. We need an expansion of Medicare Advantage supplemental benefits to provide more flexibility and cover the cost of nutrition services for a longer period of time as well as for a broader range of high-risk populations.
Not only is it our moral imperative to care for seniors — the cost savings are irrefutable.