New York wants to use Medicaid funds to help cash-strapped residents pay for food

Beth Torres

New York would join other states in implementing “food as medicine” program.
Photo byjackf/123rf

Many are familiar with Medicaid, a government program that pays for medical expenses for low-income families and individuals. Recently, however, states have been requesting permission from the federal government to allocate some of their Medicaid funds to pay for recipients' groceries and nutrition programs.

These requests require approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. New York is one of the states that has applied for permission to use Medicaid money to fund food-related programs.

These programs include groceries and “produce prescriptions” that would allow Medicaid recipients to purchase fruit, vegetables, and other groceries using food vouchers provided by the government.

The goal of the program is to cut medical costs by reducing food insecurity and improve health by giving New York residents access to healthier foods.

Food as medicine

Starting in February, the Biden administration began allowing states to use Medicaid to pay for groceries and dietary programs. The long-term aim is to use food as medicine to decrease the need for costly medical interventions by promoting healthy diets and better lifestyle choices.

New York currently has a pending Section 1115 Medicare waiver request that would enable the state to tap Medicaid funds for nutrition support programs. If New York’s waiver is approved, it would allow the state to start a Medicaid-for-groceries pilot program.

Mostly likely the program would target certain groups identified as having health conditions that could be improved through better nutrition and groups that are experiencing food insecurity.

Cuts to SNAP benefits

The urgency to start using Medicaid funds to pay for food stems from the recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). During the pandemic, the federal government temporarily boosted SNAP benefits, which provided recipients with an increased emergency allotment to pay for food.

This emergency increase in SNAP benefits ended with the February 2023 allotment. Funding has gone back to pre-pandemic levels.

SNAP helps low-income working individuals, senior citizens, the disabled and others feed themselves and their families. As of August 2022, approximately 2,876,474 people in New York relied on SNAP benefits.

This video from CBS New York discusses how government officials, non-profit organizations, and food pantries are working to help low-income residents meet their food needs after the cuts to federal food stamp benefits.

What do you think about using Medicaid to pay for food?

Will the government’s “food as medicine” plan help improve Medicaid recipients’ health and reduce high medical bills? Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section.

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