More than medicine: Value-based care helps with food insecurity

Andrew Renda, M.D., MPH

VP, Bold Goal and Population Health Strategy


Dr. Renda’s work includes leading population health work streams, including insights, informatics, strategy and execution, business integration, and community engagement. He is a published researcher and speaker in the fields of population health, social determinants of health and chronic disease.
Lack of healthy food and lower nutrient intake can lead to myriad physical and mental health complications, new research shows6. Food insecure seniors are 65% more likely to be diabetic, 19% more likely to have high blood pressure and 2.3 times more likely to suffer from depression compared to food-secure seniors.5

Furthermore, food insecure Medicare beneficiaries incur $5,527 more a year in healthcare costs than those who are food secure,6 according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Interventions to Address Food Insecurity Among Adults in Canada and the U.S.”

The focus on social determinants of health, such as food insecurity, and how they affect a person’s physical, social and mental well-being highlights the critical role value-based care plays in population health management. When healthcare providers and payers leverage an infrastructure that can access real-time data, technology and appropriate care management, they can see a more holistic picture of a person’s health, identify unmet needs and determine effective interventions, researchers said.

Why it matters:

Millions of seniors nationwide face food insecurity, making it one of the country’s leading health and nutrition issues. In fact, nearly 5.3 million have limited or uncertain access to enough food to live a healthy, active life.7

Evidence suggests that alleviating stress and anxiety over access to food is considered a beneficial health outcome. And as the number of adults age 65 and older is expected to rise to more than 73 million by 2030,8 it is likely the number of seniors living in food-insecure households will also rise substantially without effective and sustained interventions in place.

Tackling food insecurity, including addressing root causes, is a challenge many payers and healthcare providers have shifted focus to in recent years. This is because food insecurity often forces individuals to make difficult tradeoffs, such as choosing between purchasing food or purchasing medications or seeking medical care.

The way forward:

Humana has worked with healthcare providers and community organizations to address food insecurity within its MA population.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company created the Basic Needs Team, which leverages resources and emergency flexibilities granted by CMS to screen MA members for food insecurity and coordinate with national vendors to deliver meals to members’ homes. The program served 77,863 members and delivered more than 1.1 million meals in 2020 and is continuing the effort in 2021.

Food insecurity is particularly high among MA members with dual-eligible special needs plans (D-SNP). That is why Humana leveraged the Medicare Advantage value-based insurance design (VBID) model in 2020 to offer the healthy food card benefit to qualifying members in several states.

The benefit can be used to purchase healthy groceries at various national retailers and comes in the form of a wallet card loaded each month with funds.

Having access to critical data and screening tools allows clinicians, payers and policy makers to continue to search for opportunities and interventions that address the negative implications of health-related social needs within patients and whole populations.