McGovern legislation would ease access to medically necessary foods

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-27-2024 9:16 PM

The Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts has teamed up with a Republican colleague from Florida to sponsor a bill aimed at making it easier for Americans to get medically necessary foods.

Jim McGovern and John Rutherford introduced the Medical Nutrition Equity Act, which would require coverage of specialized formulas, vitamins, individual amino acids or other medically necessary foods under Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare, the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program and private insurance for patients with specific gastrointestinal and inherited metabolic diseases and disorders. McGovern said his intent is to ensure no one has to live without vital products.

“If we have a chance to improve people’s quality of life, we have a duty to do so,” McGovern said in a phone interview. “There are a lot of people who are affected and will benefit from this legislation.”

The bill is drafted to focus on people who are ordered by doctors to consume certain medically necessary nutrition to treat diagnosed diseases and disorders.

“Our health systems must be structured to support innovative treatments,” Rutherford said in a statement. “As co-chair of the Crohn’s and Colitis Caucus, where I advocate for those living with digestive diseases, I am excited to join Rep. McGovern to introduce this important legislation that would make medically necessary nutrition more easily accessible to patients across our nation.”

McGovern is the ranking member of the House Rules Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Cystic Fibrosis Caucus.

According to McGovern’s office, approximately 2,000 infants every year are diagnosed with an inherited metabolic disorder. Left untreated, inherited metabolic diseases or gastrointestinal conditions can cause the body to not absorb necessary nutrients, and food can even become toxic. An inability to access specialty formulas forces patients to go without adequate nutrition or seek hospitalization to maintain nutrition levels. McGovern said these people often have to choose between paying outrageous prices or going without potentially life-saving foods.

“They risk malnutrition, they risk repeated hospital visits, or even death,” he said.

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Forty states require coverage of medically necessary nutrition, but coverage varies state to state and does not apply to patients covered by private sector health plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, according to McGovern’s office. This bill builds on the precedent of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which improved coverage for medical nutrition for military families enrolled in TRICARE, the health care program for uniformed service members, retirees and their families around the world.

McGovern mentioned he had filed a similar bill in a previous Congress. He said the U.S. Senate is working on its own version of this new bill. He plans to meet with advocates in the coming weeks to figure out how to drum up more support and co-sponsors.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.