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Kaiser Permanente Launches Medicaid-Based ‘Food is Medicine’ Study

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   October 09, 2023

As the HLTH conference kicks into gear in Las Vegas, Kaiser Permanente has launched a collaboration with Instacart to study how access to nutritious food can improve care management and clinical outcomes for those with chronic diseases.

Healthcare organizations are taking a closer look at the “food as medicine” concept in an effort to curb skyrocketing care management costs.

One of the front-runners is Kaiser Permanente, which announced a collaboration with grocery technology company Instacart to study how access to nutritious food and resources on healthy eating can affect clinical outcomes. The study will focus on California residents enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal Medicaid program who are living with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart failure.

The announcement also comes in advance of HLTH, the massive health conference taking place this week in Las Vegas that shines a spotlight on the expanded health and wellness ecosystem. Food as medicine (also called “food is medicine”) was a popular topic at last year’s event and is just as evident this year, with an entire row of booths devoted to the concept, and healthcare executives are looking at how this particular social determinant of health can reduce long-term care management costs by improving clinical outcomes.

[See also: Uber Health Adds Groceries, OTC Items to Home Delivery Platform.]

"We know that without access to nutritious food, individuals are less likely to stay healthy, increasing the likelihood of new and widening health disparities and healthcare costs," Anand Shah, MD, the healthcare organization’s vice president of social health, said in a press release. "This innovative study is one of the many avenues that we're pursuing to improve the health of our members and communities with diet-related diseases."

Kaiser Permanente has been invested in this strategy since 2022, when it launched a $50 million “Food is Medicine” initiative in conjunction with the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The Instacart partnership is the next stage in that effort, and comes as Medicaid programs across the country are developing new programs to qualify for innovative Section 1115 research and demonstration waivers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Listen to the podcast: Using a Food as Medicine Strategy to Improve Clinical Outcomes.]

The collaboration will give selected Medi-Cal members the resources they need to purchase nutritious food that matches their care plan. Care providers will then track clinical benchmarks such as blood-sugar levels, health concerns that require visits to the doctor or hospitalizations, and other benchmarks that focus on food insecurity, diet-related disease quality of life, and patient engagement and readiness to change habits.

"We know food and nutrition insecurity is felt by people in the communities we serve, as well as for by millions of Americans nationwide," Pamela Schwartz, MPH, executive director of food security at Kaiser Permanente, said in the press release. "Identifying best practices to address these inequities is essential to building healthier communities."

There are, of course, questions that come with the program. Can the benefits be measured in such a way to produce ROI and support sustainability? Will healthcare organizations support helping patients map out their meals? And will enough patients follow the program to show success at scale?

The Kaiser Permanente study is just one facet of a much larger national effort to address the many different factors that make up SDOH.

Recently, WellSpan Health became one of three health systems to earn health equity accreditation through the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). The accreditation addresses a broad range of SDOH elements and pushes health systems to develop a comprehensive strategy.

 "Throughout the country, there are disparities in life expectancy based on whether you live in an urban or rural area, whether you have access to education, whether you have access to housing, and whether you have access to healthy food,” Michael Seim, MD, senior vice president and chief quality officer of the Pennsylvania-based health system, said in a recent HealthLeaders article by Chris Cheney. “So, we are working on this issue as part of our community health needs assessment, our community health improvement plan, and our strategic plans. We are trying to look at all angles, including through a lens of equity."

"That focus is innovative in the fact that we have to tie together every aspect of not only our clinical practices within WellSpan but also within our community health work and our partnership programs," he added.

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Eric Wicklund


Healthcare organizations are looking for new strategies to reduce care management costs for patients with chronic diseases.

A key social determinant of health is food insecurity, which is based on the idea that a healthy diet and support for eating healthy can improve a person’s health and wellness, reduce health emergencies such as trips to the doctor’s office or ED, and slash unnecessary healthcare spending.

Kaiser Permanente and Instacart are launching a study of the ‘food is medicine’ concept through California’s Medi-Cal program at a time when Medicaid programs across the country are targeting innovative program to qualify for 1115 waivers.

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