How Anthem, Humana quickly moved to meet food insecurity needs of MA members due to COVID-19

Major insurers Anthem and Humana have revved up efforts to improve food insecurity among their Medicare Advantage members in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders with both insurers shared their thoughts on how the pandemic impacted supplemental benefits for MA plans during a session of Fierce Health Payer’s Virtual Series: Medicare Advantage Evolution.

When the pandemic hit, Humana put together a task force to figure out how to respond to members' biggest needs. The insurer thought the needs included expanding telehealth and having enough medications on hand, said Andrew Renda, M.D., associate vice president, bold goal and population health strategy at the insurer’s Office of Health Affairs and Advocacy.

“The reality was, really quickly our members started calling us and saying that is great and important, but I am now food insecure,” he said.

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Members were concerned about access to food through transportation or were afraid to go to the grocery store because of the risk of contracting the virus.

So, Humana stood up a basic needs program that coordinated with food vendors to deliver meals to members.

The program has so far “delivered almost 1 million meals across 60,000 members,” Renda said.

Anthem also found that identifying what was important to Medicare beneficiaries “flipped on its ear” due to COVID-19, said Martin Esquivel, vice president of Anthem’s Medicare product management.

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Anthem put on a “full-court press” to reach out to members to get a good idea of their needs.

“The idea was ask first and foremost, do we have what we needed in terms of food supply and telehealth visits and those sorts of things,” Martin said.

If a member didn’t have an appropriate food supply, the insurer worked to connect them with local food programs, and, if there weren’t any programs, the member would be sent food.

Some MA startups also had to shift their approach as a result of the pandemic.

Startup Papa focuses on offering companion services and technology to help seniors, including transportation and other benefits.

The startup had to enhance its platform to support people virtually, said CEO and founder Andrew Parker. He added that 40% of members requested to be taught how to use video.