Expanding the roles of healthcare providers, institutions, and insurers in improving healthy food access and strategies that improve health outcomes can have a profound impact on residents in Massachusetts, and especially those that are food insecure.
It is essential to reduce overall health care costs in Massachusetts. These costs are increasingly crowding out the ability of State government to maintain and invest in other services that are critical to public health, including early childhood education, mental health, and public safety. Institutions with a stake in public health outcomes have an opportunity to help meet this need by taking more actions to address and reverse the public health crisis of obesity and other health problems that are related to poor nutrition and inactivity.
As anchor institutions, nonprofit hospitals, and health maintenance organizations have an obligation to fulfill the Massachusetts’ 2009 Community Benefits Guidelines. These include improving chronic disease management among vulnerable residents, reducing racial and ethnic health disparities, and promoting wellness for all.1 Exemplary programs include Mass in Motion, Shape Up Somerville, Live Well Springfield, Mass General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement, and similar initiatives.
In addition, the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010 established several community service obligations for nonprofit hospitals, the most relevant of which is the requirement to conduct a community health needs assessment (CHNA) and adopt an implementation strategy at least once every three years, as described in Section 501(r) of the Internal Revenue Service tax code.2
Health insurers also have an interest in keeping their customers healthy, which helps control premium costs for all subscribers. Many insurers already offer incentives for healthy behavior, such as gym membership rebates. Expanding such incentives to encourage the regular purchase and consumption of healthy food could help further healthy behaviors.