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Under Obamacare, You Might Be Eating Better Hospital Food

By Tara Culp-Ressler  

"Under Obamacare, You Might Be Eating Better Hospital Food"

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Obamacare will change huge aspects of the health care industry for Americans: Women won’t be charged more for the same care just because of their gender, insurance companies won’t be able to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, young adults will be able to remain on their parents’ health plans up to the age of 26, and Americans will receive checks in the mail if their insurers end up charging them too much. But there are more subtle ways that the health law could end up changing Americans’ experiences in hospitals and doctors’ offices, too. As Kaiser Health News details, Obamacare could spur hospitals to start offering better food in their cafeterias.

A growing number of hospitals across the country are beginning to invest more in their food services, trying out new initiatives like offering patients hotel-style “room service,” constructing on-site gardens, and selling local produce in their lobbies. “Food service helps the overall experience,” Jim McGrody, the director of food and nutrition at Rex Hospital in North Carolina, explained.

And, thanks to the health reform law, more hospitals are investing in that “overall experience.” In order to gain greater reimbursements for treating Medicare patients, hospitals will have to score well on a patient satisfaction survey. Even though food isn’t included on that questionnaire, hospital administrators believe that providing a better culinary experience could still help improve patients’ overall experience and, ultimately, boost their facility’s scores.

Food management companies that focus on health care facilities told Kaiser Health News that they’ve been getting more requests recently from hospitals that want to improve their Medicare satisfaction scores. “Health care reform is pushing a lot of these changes,” Richard Schenkel, the CEO of a Boston-based company that manages food service at hospitals, explained. “There is a belief that when you have horrible food, it affects your patient satisfaction scores. Patients remember their food…It’s the one thing that comes to them three times a day.”

Nonprofit hospitals may also have another incentive under Obamacare to provide healthier food to their patients: It could help them maintain their tax-exempt status. The IRS has long had a requirement that hospitals must prove they’re benefiting the community to qualify as a nonprofit, but Obamacare strengthened those requirements. Health care consultants are beginning to urge hospitals to provide healthy, locally-sourced food as a benefit to the community — as well as a method of encouraging healthy eating habits among their patients.

Many hospitals aren’t wasting any time working on improving their food selection. Patients staying at UNC Healthcare in Chapel Hill, NC., for example, can select gourmet burritos, red wine-marinated London broil with au jus, and chicken Penang from a 20-page menu. “It’s been a game changer for us,” Angelo Mojica, UNC’s director of food and nutrition services, said of the hospital’s new commitment to their dining fare. According to Mojica, patient satisfaction scores have risen to the 99 percentile.

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