March 1, 2019

The Wheels for Meal Delivering Service in Medicare Advantage

Lucy Theilheimer, Chief Strategy and Impact Officer Meals on Wheels America

The reality is, nearly nine million seniors face the threat of hunger every day and 8 out of 10 food insecure and/or physically-impaired seniors are not receiving home-delivered meal services they need. A 2015 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the low-income seniors who do not receive meals report not having enough money for food, that 27% of people 60+ report difficulties with one or more daily activities and likely need home-based care, and that roughly 1 in 5 people 65+ potentially need transportation services. To make matters worse, this at-risk population is set to nearly double by 2060, which will inevitably increase the demand for these vital services and the cost of care.


It is important to understand the needs of our seniors and how we can best encourage the health care sector and community-based organizations to work together to address the social determinants of health to improve their quality of life, overall health, and avert the need for high-cost healthcare services. By providing vulnerable seniors with the foundational in-home support they need, you enable them to have healthier, more independent lives and allow plans and providers to use their resources to address these needs.


Meals on Wheels America, which is a national leadership organization supporting more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that are dedicated to addressing senior isolation and hunger, advocates every day to deliver a better future for our most at-risk seniors. The Meals on Wheels network focuses on three main things: delivering a healthy meal, an in-home safety check to detect hazards inside or outside of the home, and a friendly visit to combat social isolation.


These community-based programs serve virtually every community in America with millions of supporting staff and volunteers working every day to address food insecurity and social isolation. The reality is shocking, but Meals on Wheels can serve a senior for an entire year for the same cost as just one day in a hospital or ten days in a nursing home.


Through Medicare Advantage, Meals on Wheels America has partnered with Humana and local programs to positively impact the health of Humana Medicare Advantage (MA) members on select plans. The partnership is a benefit focused on those living with multiple chronic conditions and members in Special Needs Plans (SNPs), who can access this benefit after an in-patient hospital or skilled nursing facility (SNF) stay, or to help manage certain chronic conditions.


This collaboration is allowing Meals on Wheels to be the “eyes and ears” for Humana’s MA beneficiaries and provide delivery services among a particularly vulnerable population. The goal is to improve health and reduce hospital readmissions among high-risk populations by providing access to nutritious food and addressing loneliness. Seniors on this program have a Humana Care Manager that determines if the MA member is at high risk for isolation or loneliness, and if so, is offered an additional once-a-week visit to 13 weeks to engage in dialogue, companionship and assist with light chores.


In another partnership with Aetna, Meals on Wheels programs in selected markets are providing an enhanced “more than a meal” service by leveraging technology to monitor and report changes in condition among high-need Aetna members and to address them before they escalate and become more serious and costly healthcare episodes. Again, this project seeks to reduce hospital admissions and readmissions by identifying warning signals early on. Meals on Wheels staff work in partnership with Aetna care managers to determine the best course of action for addressing the identified concerns.


By supporting the Center of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expansion of supplemental benefits in Medicare Advantage plans, we allow them to them more flexibility to tailor offerings to the beneficiaries they serve. As MA plan membership rise, and the senior population doubles, we need organizations like Meals on Wheels to help address the unique needs of millions of disabled seniors’ in America who struggle of hunger and isolation.

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