Health

People who are over 65 or have a disability that qualifies them for Medicare can enroll in a plan for 2018 through December 7.

There are a lot of choices of companies, but health insurer Anthem, which sells Medicare Advantage plans in Kentucky, is offering a new meal benefit that aims to reduce hospital readmissions. A study of 1,442 Medicare surgery patients found that one of the top three reasons for being readmitted was because of malnutrition.

Hospitals these days are particularly interested in keeping patients who’ve had a surgery or inpatient stay from coming back within 30 days – unless it’s an absolute emergency. That’s because a few years ago, the government started penalizing hospitals for the number of patients who were readmitted.

The idea is that many readmissions — which drive up costs for Medicare — are avoidable.

One in eight Medicare patients in 2010 was readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of being released, and many of those could have been avoided with better discharge planning, according to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

Chris Boles, vice president of Medicare plans for Anthem in Kentucky said planning could include knowing who’s taking care of the patient at home, how the patient will get their medication, and how they’ll access nutritious food to heal.

“Weight loss and poor nutrition are common causes of people not recovering from being sick or surgery, and it can lead to them ending up back in the hospital,” said Boles. “We want to avoid that and try to get our members healthy. And by offering the meal benefit that’s a great way to avoid those readmissions.”

As part of Anthem’s plan, up to 20 meals can be delivered to an enrollees’ home over the course of 10 days. This meal benefit is part of a larger trend and recognition by insurers, hospitals and the medical community that poor nutrition can prevent a patient from getting better. Insurer Kaiser Permanente, for example, started a meal delivery program in 2014.

One of Anthem’s plans comes with no monthly payment, no copays for doctor visits or a deductible. That plan is for people who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare because of a disability and age. The other plan, Boles said, is for general Medicare enrollees and comes with a cap on out-of-pocket costs at almost $5,000.

Boles said the meal benefit is available in 29 counties in Kentucky, including Jefferson, Oldham, Nelson and Hardin.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.