In a controversial move, the Biden administration has begun allowing states to use Medicaid for food and nutritional counseling.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the move is part of a new approach that regards "food as medicine" so as to address broader health problems.
The Journal noted that in November the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services greenlit a trial program under which Arkansas was permitted to spend up to $85 million worth of federal and state cash on "health-related social needs."
This included "nutrition counseling and healthy-meal preparation," with similar programs being approved in Oregon and Massachusetts.
Rachel Nuzum serves as senior vice president for federal and state health policy at the Commonwealth Fund, and she hailed the change, saying, "This is something that is building momentum."
However, others have expressed reservations. One of them is Medicaid and Health Safety Net Initiative for Paragon Health Institute head Gary D. Alexander.
"This is really the first I’ve seen the federal government push food and air conditioners and other things as allowable," Alexander said, adding, "We already have the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). It seems like it’s blurring the lines."
Still, some Republicans have expressed optimism over the change, including Sen. Roger Marshall, an obstetrician-gynecologist.
"There needs to be a bigger emphasis on how do we start encouraging people to make good healthy choices," the Journal quoted Marshall as stating.
Marshall argued that improving nutrition "is going to save us money in the long term," pointing to the costs associated with chronic diseases and hospital readmissions.
However, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Glenn Thompson sounded a more cautious note, telling the Journal that using food as medicine needs to be closely looked at.
"In Washington sometimes, bright shiny things get a lot of attention and sometimes a lot of financial resources. Let’s look at what the needs are," said Thompson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf argued that having a single official in charge of most food issues "unifies and elevates the program while removing redundancies, enabling the agency to oversee human food in a more effective and efficient way."