Coordinated Care’s recently launched program provides prescription vouchers for fruits and vegetables for people experiencing food insecurity in Washington.
State of Reform sat down with Beth Johnson, CEO of Coordinated Care, to discuss food insecurities, how the Coordinated Care Harvest Bucks program is helping those in need, and what’s next for the program.
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Matt Beuschlein: What sort of impact did COVID have on the food insecurities in Washington State?
Beth Johnson: “COVID-19 created a lot of job loss, economic instability, and unemployment, which leads to greater rates of food insecurity. We’ve heard from some of our food agency partners that visits at the local food pantries and meal sites are up 40-50%. Access to healthy foods was a top concern of our members before the pandemic that only got worse with COVID-19.”
MB: Can you describe the Coordinated Care Harvest Bucks program?
BJ: “Coordinated Care Harvest Bucks is a food prescription program that helps members purchase fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. At the start of this, we wanted to look for ways to add value to our members and truly meet the needs that impact health care outside of the doctor’s office. We learned about the Washington State Department of Health’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, and developed a partnership to build on the success that they had already established to expand upon it.
Access to healthy food has a direct impact on health and well-being. So it made sense, given what we heard from our members and what we saw happening in the community. Our Coordinated Care Harvest Bucks program will increase the total number of available fruit and vegetable prescriptions by more than 20% statewide. We are the only Medicaid plan to offer this food-related benefit to our members, which aligns with our efforts to improve the health of the community.”
MB: Are there specific metrics or goals you’re hoping to hit with the Coordinated Care Harvest Bucks program?
BJ: “Coordinated Care believes that access to quality nutritious food is a foundational part of health and wellness. We’ve been prioritizing food security as a key social determinant of health, and we’ve really focused our efforts to address hunger in our communities.
In addition to these healthy food prescriptions is our One Million Meals campaign, addressing food insecurity in hundreds of communities throughout Washington.
We’ll also be working with our partners to monitor the health outcome increases in primary care engagement, monitoring members’ self-reported food or nutrition insecurity rates, and participation in health focused education.”
MB: Do you have an estimated number of people you’re hoping to reach with this program?
BJ: “We hope to distribute 20,000 vouchers by the end of the year. We have the potential to serve thousands this year. As we roll it out to more clinics, we’ll be able to reach more people and expand on the program next year and beyond.”
MB: What are some of the challenges your team faced when creating and rolling this program out?
BJ: “We’ve learned a lot through the process, and we know that food and nutrition insecurity is complex and will take a broader community to look towards long-term solutions. It really helped to work with the Department of Health. It saved us from having to start from scratch, because we were able to leverage some of the infrastructure already in place. ”
MB: How does the Coordinated Care Harvest Bucks program differ from the DOH’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program that launched in 2016?
BJ: “We have a great partnership with the Department of Health, and the framework that they put in place allows for autonomy between the two organizations. It allowed us to modify the enrollment, but still build on the existing program and infrastructure that the Department of Health had built.
We’ve been able to expand our program to support the broader community by participating in health fairs and community education. So we’re hopeful that this approach will start additional conversations in various communities about unique ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into people’s diets”
MB: Now that the program has launched, what are some of the next steps? How will you measure progress and improvements?
BJ: “We are expanding our regions so more of our members have access to the program. Additionally, we’re developing a process so that we can distribute vouchers to our members directly through our community health workers and broader care coordination teams. We want these vouchers to be available to all of our members. So we’re trying to think about the various ways we can distribute our Coordinated Care Harvest Bucks, for example, if they don’t seek medical services at a provider but still face food insecurity.
We will also be looking at where Coordinated Care Harvest Bucks are distributed and utilized. Understanding utilization patterns will help us develop best practices to improve and refine the program as we move forward.”
This interview was edited for length and clarity.