More than 5 million American seniors face the threat of hunger and 1 million a year go hungry, according to a report released on Tuesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders at a hearing of a Senate panel he chairs. He made the case that investing in nutrition programs saves money on Medicare and Medicaid spend on more expensive hospital and nursing home care. Sen. Rand Paul, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, had a different view. A spirited discussion ensued. Watch the video.
Sanders argued that poor nutrition can cause chronic diseases that require costly hospital or nursing home care, according to the report released at a meeting of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.
"Investing in senior nutrition and in well-designed senior programs in general saves money for the government because when we do that we keep people out of emergency rooms, nursing homes and the hospital. The result is substantial savings for government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid," said Sanders, the subcommittee chairman.
The average cost of a meal delivered to a senior's home is about $5. A one-day hospital stay typically costs about $1,800. The cost of a year in a nursing home is $77,000. Clearly, an up-front investment in programs like Meals On Wheels and community meals at senior centers is a more common-sense approach to our budget crisis, Sanders said.
Since the recession began in 2008, agencies on aging across the country have experienced increased demand for meals programs, according to a Government Accountability Office study cited in the report. "As gasoline, home heating fuel and food prices continue to rise, we see many of the seniors we work with being forced to choose between paying for food, fuel, rent or prescription medicines," Ken Gordon, executive director of the Northeastern Vermont Area Agency on Aging, told the subcommittee.
Half of all diseases affecting older Americans are directly connected to inadequate nutrition. "For older Americans especially, hunger and malnutrition can completely undo any investments or advances we might make in better access to health care," according to Dr. Mark Lachs of Cornell University.
"I have seen it over and over again-easily treatable illnesses that could have been quickly and inexpensively handled at home, instead evolved into costly episodes of disability that at best led to costly hospitalization and at worst to indefinite nursing home residence," he added. "Who pays for that care? We all do."