2021 Hero Food Insecurity Roundup Social Determinants

Fighting food insecurity is fighting for better health

Nearly 50 million people in the United States are experiencing food insecurity, with a number of factors—from employment status to location and even race—contributing and leaving many who lack access to proper nutrition stuggling to get and remain healthy.

Food insecurity can lead to increased instances of mental health problems and depression, diabetes and hypertension. According to Feeding America, two-thirds of the families they serve had to choose between food and medical care.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies across the country are partnering with health centers, community groups, food pantries and others to help bring healthy foods to those without access. In addition to the below examples, BCBS companies have donated millions to the fight against food insecurity.

In Florida, where 90, 000 people live in areas designated as food deserts, access to healthy foods can be challenging. And for many seniors, reduced financial resources or limited transportation options can add to these challenges. In Marion County, Marion Senior Services and Florida Blue  collaborated to distribute fruits and vegetables to seniors across the county for free through the Fresh Stop Bus. Repurposed with refrigerated racks to carry the produce, Fresh Stop Bus offers a bag of fresh food, a consultation with an on-site nutritionist and information on Florida Blue health plans. The program, which began in January has served more than 500 each month, and Florida Blue is looking at ways to expand into other areas of the state.

As COVID-19 brought disruption and uncertainty, Independence Blue Cross launched a new program with United by Blue to provide locally sourced groceries to Medicare Advantage (MA) members most at risk for food insecurity. The program, initially slated to run for four weeks, has exceeded expectations and has enrolled more than 8,600 individuals between May 2020 and February 2021. The no-cost packages included carefully selected items including a mask, two rolls of toilet paper, a roll of paper towels, dairy, meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, bread, pastries and homemade soup. Emphasis was placed on sourcing fresh, non-frozen foods locally to avoid supply chain disruptions facing larger, national chains. The program was possible thanks to flexibility offered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to MA plans during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Learn more about the Independence Blue Cross initiative.

For residents of north Minneapolis, where food insecurity and access challenges have long plagued residents, COVID-19 exacerbated the difficulty of obtaining healthy foods. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Pillsbury United Communities and North Memorial Health joined forces for a new program to meet the food and safety needs of the community. “Food as medicine” offers personalized, weekly grocery packages delivered directly to community members with chronic health conditions, who are at higher risk for COVID-19, and to families with children ages 0-5 experiencing needs related to social determents of health. The packages are delivered by paramedics who are able to simultaneously conduct a wellness check and answer any health-related questions.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) is offering a suite of innovative programs and initiatives aimed at helping their members and communities overcome food insecurity. More than 600,000 people in the state struggle with putting food on the table, and North Carolina is ranked as the tenth hungriest state in the country. Blue Cross NC initiatives include partnerships with local groups—Benefits Data Trust (BDT)Manna Food BankFood Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC—to increase enrollment in the Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The company also is offering a healthy food delivery and stipend to eligible members as well as special assistance to Medicare Advantage members and value-added services for qualifying Medicaid members. To date, more than 2,000 members have enrolled in the programs.  

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) is addressing food insecurity and other health conditions throughout the state. A collaboration with Farm Express brings mobile food markets into senior communities and areas designated as food deserts offering easy access to healthy, nutritious foods. Through their Mobilize AZ initiative, BCBSAZ partners with Farm Express, the Salvation Army, and Society of St. Vincent de Paul to increase access to food for community members seeking services related to opioid and substance use at the mobile Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinics they provide in communities throughout the state. 


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