Expanding the Reach and Impact of Food Is Medicine Programs in New York
Healthy Food, Healthy Lives
December 12, 2023
People with uncertain access to food have lower diet quality, higher rates of diet-related disease, and higher health care costs.
Medically supportive food and nutrition services, known as Food Is Medicine (FIM) services, can reduce the severity of these problems, improve health outcomes, and reduce food insecurity. FIM services include a spectrum of interventions that provide tailored food assistance to people living with certain chronic illnesses or risk factors and that serve as a link to the health care system, typically through a referral or prescription. In New York State, existing FIM programs are limited in reach, scale, and range of services covered. However, there is growing interest from a variety of stakeholders to expand and study FIM interventions. Many commercial health plans have designed and launched their own FIM coverage models; New York State Medicaid is also taking steps. Under a pilot program, New York Medicaid has allowed health plans to pay for non-medical services like meals when medically appropriate and cost-effective. In September 2022, the State submitted a proposal to the federal government for a multibillion-dollar Medicaid demonstration waiver that would allow Medicaid to pay for social service coordination, including FIM. The Food Pantries for the Capital District (Food Pantries) FIM coalition played a lead role in advocating for the integration of FIM services into the waiver and for Medicaid to cover registered dietitian services. Groups across New York State are preparing to make the most of broader Medicaid coverage for FIM services; however, many of these organizations need better understanding of FIM best practices for launching, operating, collecting data, and demonstrating return on investment. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Food Pantries a grant to support organizations in designing and researching medically tailored grocery programs that can be scaled and reimbursed across New York State.
Under this grant, Food Pantries will launch an accelerator program to help organizations learn the operational, policy, and contracting mechanisms needed to run and scale up medically tailored grocery programs. It will recruit community-based organizations operating feeding programs across a range of populations. Food Pantries will provide organizations with technical assistance to standardize practices for implementing medically tailored grocery programs. It will train participating organizations on technology, referral systems, and security measures. Participating organizations will track the outcomes of their FIM grocery programs, including foods distributed by type, volume, and source. Health care partners will share data to help determine the effectiveness of the program models, and Food Pantries will analyze the data. Food Pantries will disseminate findings among the New York State FIM coalition, New York State government agencies, and social and health care partners.