Blue Cross NC takes aim at food insecurity with slew of new pilot programs

North Carolina State Flag flying in the wind at Fort Macon.
Blue Cross NC has unveiled a number of pilot programs targeting members' food insecurity. (BSPollard/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is piloting a number of programs aiming to address food insecurity, work the insurer says offers a baseline for further initiatives targeting the social determinants of health.

Blue Cross NC is partnering with several state organizations including Benefits Data Trust , Manna Food Bank, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC to boost enrollment in the Food and Nutrition Service and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The collaboration works to educate members about these programs and their eligibility as well as to provide support during the enrollment process, including reducing the stigmas around food assistance, Blue Cross NC said.

In addition, Blue Cross NC members can access Eat Well, a prescription food program led by Durham-based Reinvestment Partners, that provides a monthly benefit stipend that can be used to buy healthy foods.

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“We recognize that access to healthy food drives our whole health, so we’re being strategic to help more individuals get better access to nutrition and the other resources they need to achieve their best health,” said Blue Cross NC President and CEO Tunde Sotunde, M.D., in a statement.

“Having served the people of North Carolina for nearly a century, we are ideally equipped to lead this journey. We know that healthier individuals mean healthier communities, and in the end that lowers costs for everyone," Sotunde said.

Blue Cross NC noted there are more than 600,000 North Carolina residents who struggle to put food on the table, with the state ranking as the tenth hungriest in the country.

Other programs the insurer is testing include a post-discharge meal program for Medicare Advantage members, which offers personalized nutrition services following a hospital stay. In Medicaid, eligible members can access benefits that cover three months of fruits and vegetables.

Blue Cross NC is working with Virta Health and Pack Health to address food insecurity among members with Type 2 diabetes and with Papa to help members who are socially isolated get access to healthy food.

So far, 2,000 members have enrolled in these programs, and early results from the pilots will be used to scale up the work, Blue Cross NC said.

"Data measures from most of these programs will help shape informed decisions about which approaches should be continued or scaled up—laying the framework for more large-scale efforts and allowing for greater diversity in future collaborations to address drivers of health," the insurer said in the announcement.