- Kaiser Permanente is tackling food insecurity in its latest social determinants of health program. The initiative will begin with a texting campaign to connect eligible California residents with CalFresh, the state's supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.
- California recently expanded CalFresh eligibility to include residents receiving Supplemental Security Income, though many of the beneficiaries don't know they're eligible, according to Kaiser. The integrated, nonprofit health system plans to reach out to more than 600,000 Kaiser Permanente health plan members with a goal of getting 100,000 enrolled by spring 2020.
- As of Friday, about 7,200 Kaiser members have submitted CalFresh applications. If the program sees initial success, the health system plans to expand it to the rest of the country through organic growth to other Kaiser-heavy geographies and through local partnerships.
As social determinants of health become more of a recognized contributor to health outcomes, more partnerships and initiatives are cropping up. Last year, CMS injected more flexibility into privately-run Medicare Advantage plan benefits, including the possibility of meal delivery.
Helping adults on Medicare and Medicaid afford healthy foods could be a cost-effective tactic to improve population health, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine.
"Healthcare across the ecosystem of health plays a very small but important part" in outcomes, Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson told reporters Monday at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas. "Things like behavior, genetics and where you live has a bigger impact."
Kaiser is also working on confidentially integrating SDOH data into the EHR in partnership with Unite Us, an outcome-focused technology company, and it has launched a pilot to find 515 homeless people over the age of 50 secure housing in Oakland, California.
In the U.S., more than 32 million Americans are food insecure. According to Kaiser's Social Needs in America survey, 40% of Californians have experienced stress about food needs in the last year. Yet California has one of the lowest SNAP enrollment rates in the country.
CalFresh, gives eligible residents a maximum of $192 each month to buy groceries. The expanded eligibility in June of this year increased the number of potentially eligible beneficiaries by more than 1 million and marks the first time in the program's history that SSI recipients can receive the food subsidies.
The program, which was developed through a Kaiser crowd-sourcing challenge, also includes a pilot to see whether providing meal delivery tailored to a household's needs improves dietary adherence for the primary beneficiary. The first phase of the pilot will launch March 2020 and will run for half a year.
"The whole notion of food as medicine is really growing," Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, said during a HLTH panel Monday. "It's an area of consumer interest."
Medically tailored meals can be useful for medication management, allergies, cancer, diabetes and kidney disease, according to the company. Kaiser is looking to partner with an at-home meal delivery service on the pilot such as Postmates or GrubHub, but had no specific details to share.
In June, another nonprofit system, Intermountain Healthcare, invested $12 million in a collaborative effort with Utah state, county and city government agencies and community groups to address social determinants issues like housing instability, access to utility and food insecurity.