HLTH22: Instacart Health partners with ChenMed, Helper Bees, Levels Health to address the root causes of food insecurity

Instacart Health announced three new partners as a part of its food as medicine pillar aimed at giving healthcare providers, patients, payers and patients new tools to make healthy living attainable for the 10% of Americans lacking reliable nutrition.

Primary care provider ChenMed, insurtech company The Helper Bees and software provider Levels Health have all joined the food as medicine pillar of the delivery company’s health division. Instacart Health launched in September to address the connection between food, health and systematic poverty, the confluence of which can be seen in the phenomenon of food deserts. The partnerships will help provide heart and metabolically healthy recipes and shopping lists and allow caregivers to purchase food for others, among other new and expanded features.

"To me it was pretty obvious that America's biggest health problems start with a food problem," Instacart CEO Fidji Simo said at this week's HLTH conference. "And so when you think about Instacart as a company that is really at the intersection of the relationship that people have with the foods they eat, it felt obvious to me that we had a responsibility to address these problems and be part of the solution. So we came up with Instacart Health, which is an initiative to deliver food ingredients for healthier living."

Instacart Health was announced in collaboration with the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. The conference was designed to address the complex issues leading to 34 million Americans experiencing food insecurity. 

"It's interesting that at a health conference food is not more of the focus," Simo said. "I want health partners to think of us as the technology partners that can scale all of food as medicine programs and can make nutritional advice actionable."

Instacart's initiative includes three pillars: nutrition security, making healthier choices easier and food as medicine. As a part of the lattermost pillar, Instacart’s new partners will help utilize the medicinal power of good nutrition.

Levels Health gives members biosensors including continuous glucose monitors to offer feedback on quality of food intake. By partnering with Instacart, it will offer recipes and shopping lists to members to simplify metabolically healthy shopping.

"People can take immediate direct action on this advice and get food delivered to their door within an hour, which has a much higher likelihood of success than just giving a tip that people may forget about later on," Simo said. 

With the announcement of Instacart Health came Fresh Funds and Care Carts. Fresh Funds allows any organization—nonprofits, employers, insurance companies or health systems—to add money to someone’s account. Partnership for a Healthier America was the first to use the tool to expand its nutrition access and incentive program.

Providers can create post-surgical shopping lists to avoid readmittance or treatment tailored lists to communicate the tenet of food as medicine. 

"If you're a payer, think about using Fresh Funds as a way to fund the cost of healthy groceries and see that impact," Simo said. "If you're a provider, think about using Care Carts as a way to order food on behalf of your patients. If you're an employer, think about using that as a benefit for your employess. And if you have a digital health company, think about using Instacart as a way to make your nutritional advice actionable."

Care Carts allows healthcare providers and caregivers to order groceries on behalf of someone else. The Helper Bees joins a handful of organizations already using the feature like digital nutrition platform Good Measures, hospital-at-home provider Medically Home and care management platform NourishedRx.

Helper Bees care advisers will use the Care Carts feature to order on behalf of members. The insurtech company will offer their Medicare Advantage members up to $100 per month in Instacart Fresh Funds.  

"So what does that mean? It means that people who are recipients of a stipend can now decide to go and order food from any retailers, which gives them the dignity of choice to order items that the funder decides are eligible," Simo said. "So for example, you can limit to only healthy items, you can limit to low sodium items, you can limit to fresh produce or frozen produce. That gives you a ton of flexibility to really be able to drive a lot of progress with that technology."

ChenMed will leverage Instacart’s notable accessibility to provide seniors with more options for healthy living. ChenMed will help patients with congestive heart failure register for the delivery service, connect their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) benefits and access ChenMed’s medically tailored recipes.

"In my case, the nutritionist gives me a very nice list of items that I need to stick to on a piece of paper and I fold it when I go home put into the drawer and don't do anything with it," Simo said. "We have created a technology that makes it very easy for patient coordinators, dieticians, nutritionists to prescribe food the same ways they prescribe medication."

ChenMed is already a collaborative partner with Lyft Healthcare, which offers patients transportation to ChenMed clinics and in-person cooking classes. Instacart will now include the recipes learned in those classes in its app.

Instacart has made the inclusion of EBT SNAP benefits a priority of the platform. Now, 70 retailers in 8,000 stores across 49 states and Washington, D.C., accept the benefit as payment through the platform. Instacart reaffirmed its commitment to work with the USDA to continue to expand EBT SNAP payment access.

With this new partnership announcement, the company also stated that it’s working to include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits in the app so customers can pay for things like diapers, toilet paper and delivery fees. TANF is scheduled to be added to the platform in the early months of next year, according to an Instacart spokesperson.

Through the support of Instacart, the University of Kentucky and Share Our Strength, a not-for-profit addressing hunger and poverty in the U.S., released a micro report stating that online grocery shopping allowed families on a tight budget to plan ahead, stick to shopping lists and save money.

"What we're working on is really providing the infrastructure so that the data can be collected accurately and passed to the organizations that are tracking the health outcomes already, like MPOs and providers," Simo said. "Once they have access to the richness of that data, the choices that people make with their food, that's a really rich data set. You can show a payer and you do a test where you're funding a specific cost of a particular grocery category and you measure the outcomes. You realize, oh, that's actually saving me so much in healthcare costs down the line, you can optimize on the programming side, if you're going to spend a little less, a little more on food, use it in less than other categories, and really shift your members behavior towards health."

By analyzing the receipts of families using online grocery shopping, the report showed that shoppers spent $5.24 on average more on fruits and vegetables than brick and mortar shoppers. Shoppers who received tailored assistance bumped that number up to $6.84.

Households using SNAP benefits reported an appreciation for the level of anonymity of shopping online as opposed to using SNAP EBT cards in stores where they might experience stigma related to using public benefits.

Added convenience for people with mobility issues, without transportation and with young children was also reported.

"These people usually are trying to pack two jobs in one day, they don't have access to a car, they often don't own a car," Simo said. "And so the benefit of groceries delivered at home using their SNAP dollars is massive. So we really want to modify stuff and make sure that people with Medicare and Medicaid can have access to medically tailored groceries that are specific to that condition."

The study found that barriers to online shopping still exist, including app-related fees, limited pickup times and dissatisfaction with third-party shopper selection. Rural shoppers reported that online shopping was not always an option either due to availability or price.

Retailers reported that startup costs, tech infrastructure and staff shortages were barriers to being approved for offering SNAP EBT purchasing.

The food delivery company initially planned to move toward a public offering in 2022, but, due to global market turmoil, they have put off the move. After a confidential filing, Instacart planned to make its financial information public at the end of October but halted the process due to market jitters.

The initial confidential filing has not been withdrawn with the hopes that market conditions will improve, a source told the The New York Times.