The “Food as Medicine” movement has been gaining momentum lately, much to the liking of health organizations Highmark Health, Kaiser Permanente and Geisinger launch initiatives to combat food insecurity.
But the responsibility should not lie solely with payers and health systems. Employers also need to get in on the act, says Dr. Bipin Mistry, chief medical officer of the lights up. The company works with employers to provide benefits administration services, wellness solutions, care navigation and other services.
By supporting employee nutrition, employers can ultimately reduce health care costs by reducing hospitalizations and emergency room visits, Mistry said in a recent interview. His comments come amid health care costs for employers expected to grow 6.5% in 2023, according to a recent Aon report.
“If you do things to get people healthy and stay well, you will see [an improvement] in the cost curve that employers face,” Mistry said.
The first way employers can support the Food as Medicine movement is by gaining an understanding of their employee population. For example, knowing where employees live may be an indicator of food insecurity, as some individuals may not live near healthy food options. Personalization is a key part of treating food insecurity, Mistry said.
“What motivates one person may not motivate another,” he said. “We need to try to understand how we meet employees where they are and help them create a personalized journey that matters to them.”
After identifying the groups of employees who do not have access to nutritious food, employers must determine which solutions can solve the problem. Companies that focus on nutrition include Num and Seasonal health. While many employers experience point-solution fatigue, Mistry said it’s important to determine which solutions drive the best results, rather than focusing on having everything.
Additionally, Mistry said employers should work with their health plans to improve their benefit offerings and ensure that nutrition is part of them.
Finally, employers should look at the overall health of their employees to ensure their needs are met, he added.
“It’s a holistic approach,” Mistry said. “So you have to think not only about food as medicine, but what else needs to be done to help employees. Behavioral health solutions will also be important. What kind of primary care services, especially if they have a chronic illness, does a member have access to?’
Alight works to support its employer clients in the Food as Medicine movement, Mistry said. One of the main ways it does this is by directing its clients’ employees to the right programs and providers.
“It’s a support system that you have to try and develop around the members because they can’t do it on their own,” Mistry said. “Navigating healthcare is really difficult. On top of that, you add Food as Medicine. You can start to see that people get confused very quickly and need help.
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