You’ll Soon Be Able to Use Medicaid Money to Purchase Food

Updated: Feb. 15, 2023

The Biden administration just enacted a historic expansion of the federal healthcare program.

It’s no secret that in America, vulnerable populations—such as children, the elderly, ethnic minorities and low-income households—are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. As such, these demographics typically have higher incidences of health problems, such as hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more.

While all of these facts may seem pretty bleak, there is now some much-needed good news for the food-insecure: those on Medicaid will now be able to spend their benefits on certain food programs. The ruling by the Biden administration was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 13, 2023. Given the newness of this legislation, there is limited available information at this time; however, here is what we do know about this important history-making ruling.

Why Was Medicaid Expanded to Cover Food?

This decision reflects the Biden administration’s central focus on national nutrition. In September, the president hosted the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and he has become an avid proponent of the “food as medicine” mentality.

This belief basically connects increased access to high-quality nutritious food to increased health, decreased medical visits and decreased stress on the healthcare system. The Wall Street Journal article cites a particular study from Tufts University, which demonstrated that providing medically tailored meals to those on Medicare and Medicaid could save these federal programs $13.6 billion per year.

Though the decision does have its outright opponents, others are viewing it with tentative skepticism. For example, Republican representative Glenn Thompson, who chairs the House Agricultural Committee, told the Wall Street Journal that while he thinks the “food as medicine” approach has some merit, he’d like to see more research on the subject. “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.”

How Does This Expansion of Medicaid Affect SNAP?

The quick answer here is that it doesn’t. In fact, opponents of the ruling cite this as a primary complaint, claiming it is “unnecessary and redundant” to the existing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, the USDA has also officially announced that the temporary boost to SNAP implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic—called “emergency allotments”—will “end nationwide after the February 2023 issuance.” Certain states, like Ohio, are already being hit particularly hard. So, proponents of the Medicaid expansion are hoping it will help cover those left especially vulnerable in the wake of these cuts and record food inflation.

What Food Can Medicaid Now Cover and For Whom?

Individual states will decide how their residents can apply Medicaid to their grocery bills. For example, the federal government has already approved Oregon’s program to allow citizens to use Medicaid funds for groceries, as well as cooking and nutrition classes for youth in foster care, recently incarcerated people and people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

In Arkansas, veterans at risk of homelessness and those aged 19 to 24 at risk of long-term poverty can use their Medicaid funds similarly. In yet another model, Massachusetts will allow children, pregnant people and those with diet-sensitive medical conditions on Medicaid to receive 6 months’ delivery of medically tailored meals, i.e. “food prescriptions.”

How Can I Take Advantage of This Expansion of Medicaid?

How you can use your Medicaid funds will depend vastly on where you live. So, be sure to continually check your local news and state government websites for updates, and talk with your doctor about any existing state programs for food prescriptions. If states like California—which expanded Medicaid coverage to include food in 2021 and offers the Medically-Tailored Meals Program—are any indication, the next steps may include confirming your eligibility, procuring a referral from your medical provider, and applying for assistance.

However the Medicaid expansion differs state-to-state, its effects are sure to be felt on a country-wide scale. In 2021, approximately 19% of Americans relied on Medicaid and in 2022, just 1 in 10 Americans ate enough fruits and vegetables, according to the CDC. In light of these systemic issues, hopefully, the expansion of Medicaid can help improve Americans’ accessibility to nutritious foods, leading to a happier and healthier 2023.

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