Addressing Food Insecurity to Decrease Costs and Improve Health Outcomes

Tim Conroy

A Conversation between Sellers Dorsey & Mom’s Meals

Sellers Dorsey and Tim Conroy, Vice President of Government and Healthcare Partnerships with Mom’s Meals, met recently to discuss how the organization is working to address food insecurity for vulnerable populations, and how that work is leading to decreased healthcare costs and improved health outcomes. Mom’s Meals, a leading national provider of nutrition solutions and home-delivered meals, fulfills their mission by making better health accessible with nutritious food to power and fuel healthy lifestyles for people facing social determinants of health barriers including Medicaid beneficiaries.

SD:  What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as you work to address food insecurity?
TC:  The biggest challenge we’ve faced is a lack of consistency in the integration and application of food and nutrition benefits across the various payers and government programs.  Medicaid programs are expanding but are limited to waiver-based programs that are typically low utilization due to perceptions of duplication of services or value-added benefit programs that are administratively funded by the health plans. Additionally, aging programs are limited in their budget in addition to practicality for current-day seniors resulting in unnecessary wait lists and service disruptions for healthy food programs. Also,  community-based programs are smaller in scale and are unable to support rural populations or wait lists in underserved areas. Another big challenge is having the ability to consolidate programs, modernize needs and applications, and identify synergies and alignment across programs that would benefit high-risk populations at a statewide level.

SD:  With a nod to “right place, right time, right approach,” what’s the smartest point-of-entry to address these issues?  Where do you start?
TC:  Develop a coalition of stakeholders to target underserved areas and consolidate barriers to programs and services.  Typically starting with the area’s most underserved communities and using these challenges to identify common opportunities to target community-based support across payers and providers. Individual silos can be impacted by stakeholder commitments and modernizing of historical barriers that have resulted in increased food security rates across rural and minority populations.

SD:  What obstacles have you encountered along the way? 
TC:  We’ve encountered obstacles with misinformation and confusion between different stakeholders that limit the access and consumption of healthy food. It’s been a challenge to move the discussion from an academic perspective of understanding food insecurity to practical and cost-effective solutions to qualify, target, and implement community-level hunger programs.

SD:  Where has Moms Meals made the biggest investment to tackle these mission-critical challenges?  And where do you feel you’ve made the biggest impact? 
TC:  Our biggest investments are in advocacy for establishing public and private sector state hunger coalitions to bring stakeholders together and identify communities at highest risk for food and nutritional insecurity along with creating pathways across payers and programs to address practical solutions to community-level hunger.  By targeting individual needs around food insecurity, in contrast to applying a generic pathway that may not support their individual and unique circumstances, we create practical and person-centered outcomes.

SD:  Bonus Question – How do you measure impact?  What metrics do you look at to see if you’ve moved the needle the way you had planned?
TC:  Outcomes can be tracked through two main pathways.  First, documenting improvement to an individual’s confidence and perception that they can access and consume healthy food more consistently. Providing dignity to individuals so that they can consistently access healthier food choices is a critical component of measuring success. Second, measuring healthcare outcomes of healthy food programs for high-risk populations like maternal health, diabetes, and renal disease to name a few.  Using food as medicine programs and tracking reductions in hospitalizations, emergency department use, reduced medication claims, and overall improvements to health and well-being can be tracked through healthy outcomes measures.

Want to learn more about food insecurity? Click here to check out our blog post on targeting food insecurity with a market-pantry model!