Skip to main content

Innovative ways states can help reduce food insecurity

July 26, 2023

No matter what part of the health care sector they work in — health plans, government agencies, community programs or policymaking — industry leaders and decisionmakers are asking the same question: How do we solve food insecurity?

More than 34 million Americans are food insecure as noted by Feeding America. That’s about 10 percent of the U.S. population. People are going hungry for so many different reasons — income and employment, the rising cost of food, the prevalence of food deserts and food swamps, mobility issues that make it hard to shop for groceries, lack of transportation… the list goes on.

Food insecurity also influences health care costs on the individual and state level. For example, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found adults experiencing food insecurity had annual health care expenditures $1,834 higher compared to food-secure adults. That adds up to about $687 million in cumulative median costs per state.

I’m frustrated by this serious problem in our nation. However, I’m hopeful. I’m seeing various states that are taking innovative steps in the right direction to help solve for food insecurity. Mom’s Meals® has a new white paper, Innovating to Overcome Food Insecurity: How states are taking new approaches to achieve better outcomes that highlights some of these state-level innovations that are building on the foundation of government programs to break down barriers to services, improve lives and produce real results. The range of available options may surprise you.

States are creating pathways with programs and collaboration
Food insecurity directly affects a person’s health and well-being and it’s a key factor in social determinants of health (SDOH). Programs and initiatives that address SDOH also help turn the tide on food insecurity.

  • 1115 Demonstrations 
    One way states are tackling SDOH is by creating waivers, authorized under Medicaid section 1115 to add food and nutrition programs for high-risk populations.  
  • In Lieu of Services (ILOS) 
    Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has a guide for how states can use ILOS to address SDOH-related needs and improve health equity. ILOS are medically appropriate, cost-effective alternatives to traditional Medicaid-approved medical services. Think preventive care versus reactive care. For instance, a health plan could offer home-delivered, medically tailored meals as a preventive service to members with chronic conditions to improve the member’s nutrition and help reduce their potential for costly hospitalization due to malnutrition. The guide provides pathways for Medicaid health plans to submit ILOS benefits to their state Health and Human Services (HHS) departments in addition to state directed ILOS programs like California and New York.
  • State Hunger Coalitions
    Every state has different demographics and different challenges. That’s where state hunger coalitions can make an impact. Leaders can customize these collaborative networks to address the needs of each state’s high-risk populations and close gaps in care. Hunger coalitions bring the state’s unique group of payers and stakeholders together and utilize their combined strengths to come up with innovative, practical programs and services that deliver nutrition to food insecure populations.
  • Value Added Benefits (VABs)
    Medicaid health plans have taken leadership in piloting food and nutrition programs by offering VABs for food and nutrition programs. Although smaller and typically targeted for specific populations, these programs require no approval from CMS or state HHS teams and can be done at the sole discretion of the health plan using administrative dollars.

Case in point
In the white paper you’ll see case studies from around the country that demonstrate how these innovative pathways work on the ground. One example I would like to share is a pilot program in California that offered six months of medically tailored meals from Mom’s Meals to dually eligible (Medicare and Medicaid) members with certain health conditions. The program resulted in a 50 percent reduction of hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and a total cost savings of $1.8 million (a 25 percent reduction).

I invite you to explore more insights and examples, plus learn the questions you should ask to spark innovation in your state in our white paper.

If you or your team need more guidance, please reach out to me. Our team is ready to share our expertise surrounding food and nutrition for populations in need to help you build an effective program.