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    Food Is Medicine, Food Is Love

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting–

    It’s a simple concept. If chronically ill people eat a nutritious, healthy diet, they will need fewer medications and hopefully fewer hospitalizations. By reducing these expenses, we can reduce health care costs and the patient load on our health care system.

    It’s called “food is medicine,” and it’s gaining popularity across the country. One of the concept’s early adopters in the 1980s was Project Open Hand here in San Francisco; they started serving and delivering medically tailored meals to those battling HIV. Eventually, they expanded to people dealing with other conditions, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

    Late last year, as part of our annual staff retreat, I brought my entire staff—District, Capitol and Budget Committee—to Project Open Hand’s Polk Street headquarters. On our tour, we checked out their indoor greenhouse and learned about their on-site grocery pickup and nutrition counseling programs. We then rolled up our sleeves and packed hundreds of meals that went out to clients. It was truly inspiring to see just how much they do and how many people they can serve, working with limited resources.

    In early 2017, the results of their “Food = Medicine” nutrition study, done in collaboration with UC San Francisco, were released and were unequivocally clear that this program works. As the Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I took notice and included $6 million in our state’s budget for a three-year pilot program to provide medically tailored meals to Medi-Cal patients suffering from congestive heart failure, cancer, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease. Each program participant receives three meals a day for a period of three to six months.

    After the pilot program in San Francisco, Alameda, Los Angeles, Marin, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma Counties is complete, the state’s Department of Health Care Services will gauge its efficacy through data gleaned from Medi-Cal. They will be looking at possible reductions in hospital readmissions, emergency room visits and admissions to long-term care facilities. By January of 2021, I, along with my colleagues in the Legislature, will receive a report detailing the results of the program. We can then have the discussion as to whether or not future budgets will include funding for such programs.

    For those of us who may not be dealing with chronic health conditions, healthy eating is still essential. That is why I have advocated for increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables for all, including at farmers’ markets. Not only do these markets sell fresh, California-grown produce from small producers, but they also act as activity hubs for the neighborhood, bringing neighbors together.

    Previous legislation that I authored and passed in 2015, Assembly Bill (AB) 1321, scales up the Market Match program throughout the state. Established in 2009, Market Match offers additional incentives for consumers to purchase fresh California-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables by matching the value of nutrition benefits like CalFresh and WIC. Through these programs, your state government is making our population healthier and lowering health care costs.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City.