Subsidizing healthy food could lower healthcare costs by $100B, Tufts study finds

Medicare and Medicaid costs could fall up to $100.2 billion if healthy foods were subsidized for beneficiaries, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine.

For the study, researchers from Medford, Mass.-based Tufts University and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston studied how two interventions would affect cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as health-related costs, for Medicare and Medicaid recipients. The two interventions were a 30 percent subsidy on fruits and vegetables and a broader 30 percent subsidy on fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, nuts, seafood and plant oils.

The study authors found the first incentive, just fruits and vegetables, could prevent 1.9 million cardiovascular events and save $39.7 billion in healthcare costs. The second incentive could prevent 3.3 million cardiovascular events and 120,000 diabetes cases, and save $100.2 billion in healthcare costs.

The researchers said both incentives were cost-effective at five years and beyond.

"Economic incentives for healthier foods through Medicare and Medicaid could generate substantial health gains and be highly cost-effective," the researchers concluded.

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