One of the nation’s largest Blue Cross Blue Shield companies is expanding food delivery to 40 zip codes considered “food deserts” in Chicago and Dallas through a new service as health insurers push further into addressing social determinants of health.
For now, the six-month pilot announced by Chicago-based Health Care Service Corp, which operates Blue Cross plans in five states, has begun meal deliveries in 25 Chicago zip codes with plans to expand the program to 15 zip codes in Dallas in April through a new venture known as foodQ.
“Through the foodQ service, the companies will offer consumers easy access to affordable, nutritious foods to improve their health outcomes, particularly for diet-related, chronic conditions, while reducing avoidable emergency room visits and hospital admissions,” Health Care Service said in announcing the new service with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute, which is a part of the national trade group and health plan lobby, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
The idea behind such efforts whether they be paying for food delivery or paying rent and providing access to affordable housing is to improve health outcomes and help patients avoid getting sick and suffering a more serious illness or hospitalization in the future. Other insurers including Anthem, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group and CVS Health, which owns Aetna, are also pushing further into addressing social determinants of health.
“For us, it’s really part of our effort to address root causes of an expensive healthcare system,” Health Care Service vice president and community health and economic impact officer Manika Turnbull said in an interview.
The Blue Cross plans’ foodQ is available to consumers who live in the targeted zip codes in the pilot. They don’t have to be Blue Cross health plan subscribers to participate, Health Care Service said.
Health Care Service is encouraging those interested to pay a $ 10 monthly service fee that will get consumers free delivery, details of the program say. If you subscribe, you can then get two meals for $ 10. If you don’t subscribe, you can still get the service but you have to pay $ 10 every time you order a meal plus a $ 6 delivery charge, according to the announcement.
With every state in the country having an “obesity prevalence” of 20% or more, Turnbull said the Blue Cross plans want to make sure they are making all efforts to provide access to fresh and healthy foods in so-called “food desserts” where affordable and nutritious meals are often elusive.
Health Care Service, which owns Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and plans in Montana, Oklahoma and New Mexico, isn’t ruling out expanding the service to other markets. If the effort is successful during its six-month run, the goal is to scale it up and offer it to more consumers and potentially Blue Cross clients. Health Care Service is the nation’s fourth-largest health insurer with more than 16 million subscribers.
“We know a ZIP code is just as important as a genetic code in determining a person’s health – impacting medical needs and access to care,” Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute president Dr. Trent Haywood said in a statement accompanying the launch of foodQ,“As a physician, I know I can easily write a prescription, but what I don’t know is how am I going to make sure patients have access to healthy meals they can afford and want to eat. With the alarming rates of obesity and diabetes in our country, we need a different approach to supporting healthy living, and this pilot program can help remove the barriers that keep people from accessing healthy, affordable and nutritious foods.”