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The Wall Street Journal reports that the federal government "has started approving state requests to use Medicaid to pay for groceries and nutritional counseling as policy makers explore whether 'food as medicine' programs can lead to broad health benefits and trim costs.

"A growing body of research suggests that addressing food insecurity can improve health as well as deliver savings by reducing medical visits, the need for medication, or by helping control serious illness. The programs have also appealed to some GOP lawmakers who believe states should have more control over their Medicaid programs."

The story goes on:

"While there is no formal definition, the idea of using food as medicine often takes the form of programs that deliver meals customized for specific medical needs to recently hospitalized patients, for example, or vouchers that would enable certain people to obtain healthy items such as  fruits and vegetables but not junk food. 

"In November, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved a test program allowing Arkansas to spend up to $85 million in federal and state funds on health-related social needs, which include nutrition counseling and healthy-meal preparation. The agency approved similar demonstrations for Oregon and Massachusetts earlier last year.

"The nutrition supports are part of a push by lawmakers in both parties, the federal government, and health providers who say providing lower-income people with better food, stable homes and adequate transportation can improve their health and avoid costly medical treatment."

KC's View:

It actually is hard to understand why it has taken this long to get to this point.  Food as medicine hardly is a new concept, and enabling people on public support to be able to use it to feed themselves and their families more responsibly strikes me as a sensible extension.  There have to be strict limits on what they can buy with the funds, but it seems like a smart move.