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How Employers Can Support the Food as Medicine Movement

The Food as Medicine movement has been picking up steam recently, as healthcare organizations like Highmark Health, Kaiser Permanente and Geisinger launch initiatives battling food insecurity. 

But the responsibility shouldn’t just be on payers and health systems. Employers should get involved in the movement as well, argues Dr. Bipin Mistry, chief medical officer of Alight. The company works with employers to provide benefit administration services, wellbeing solutions, care navigation and other services.

By supporting employees’ nutrition, employers can ultimately bring down healthcare costs by reducing hospitalizations and emergency room visits, Mistry said in a recent interview. His comments come as healthcare costs for employers are anticipated to rise 6.5% in 2023, according to a recent Aon report.

“If you do things to make people healthy and remain well, you’ll see [an improvement] in the cost curve that employers are facing,” 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 can be an indicator of food insecurity, as some people 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 the other person,” he said. “We have to try and understand how we meet employees where they are at and help them create a personalized journey that matters to them.”

After finding the employee populations that lack access to nutritious food, employers should determine which point solutions can address the problem. Companies that focus on nutrition include Noom and Season Health. Although a lot of employers are undergoing point solution fatigue, Mistry stated it’s important to determine which solutions are driving the best results rather than focus on having everything.

Additionally, Mistry said employers should work with their health plans to improve their benefit offerings and ensure that nutrition is a part of it.

Lastly, employers need to look at their employees’ whole health in order to ensure their needs are being met, he added.

“This is a holistic approach,” Mistry said. “So you have to think about not just food as medicine, but what else needs to be done to help support employees. Behavioral health solutions are going to be important as well. What kind of primary care services, especially if they have a chronic disease, does a member have access to?”

Alight is working to support its employer clients in the Food as Medicine movement, Mistry said. One of the main ways it’s doing that is by navigating their clients’ employees to the right programs and providers.

“It’s a support system you have to try and develop around the member because they can’t do it alone,” Mistry said. “Healthcare navigation is really hard. On top of that, you’re adding ‘Food as Medicine.’ You can start to see that people get confused very quickly and they need help.”

Photo: vgajic, Getty Images

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