If nutritious meals can provide the same kind of benefit as medication, then why don’t health plans cover the cost of medically tailored meals, just as they cover prescription medications? It’s a question my colleagues and I at Community Servings, a nonprofit organization that provides nutritious meals for people with critical illnesses who are too sick to feed themselves or their families, have been wrestling with for years.

The meals we provide keep people alive. Community Servings started in 1990 at the height of the AIDS crisis with meals for those living with HIV/AIDS. At the time, many people with this disease died of malnutrition as lean body mass was consumed to fight the virus. Today it serves people with a broad cross section of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease. Community Servings now makes and delivers about 2,500 meals a day for as many as 15 different diets specially designed for particular illnesses or, in some cases, combinations of illnesses. Essentially, we manage complex dietary restrictions for people who are unable to do it on their own.

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