A text message patient outreach system will help enroll patients in SNAP, a social determinant of health majorly impacted by the coronavirus and social distancing.
A major text message-based patient outreach campaign out of Kaiser Permanente aims to address food security, a key social determinant of health emerging amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Given the steep increase in uncertainty due to COVID-19, this additional intervention may help support our members’ needs now more than ever,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s chief health officer. “We are helping our members in moments that matter.”
The text message outreach is the second wave of Kaiser Permanente’s Food for Life program, launched in October 2019 to help eligible Californians enroll in CalFresh, the state’s supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP).
Want to publish your own articles on DistilINFO Publications?
Send us an email, we will get in touch with you.
This latest move will address food security problems stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak. The unemployment rate is on the rise, leaving many without the finances to obtain their own food. When patients can afford groceries, they may not be able to access them because of social distancing and quarantine best practices.
This second wave of the Food for Life program entails a text message patient outreach campaign to 450,000 Kaiser Permanente members asking about their ability to obtain groceries. Those included in that 450,000 panel include individuals enrolled in Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medi-Cal, or newly eligible Medicare or Commercial members.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Kaiser Permanente reported that one in nine Californians faced food security challenges, a number it estimates has grown in the five weeks since the disease gripped the nation.
California has one of the lowest SNAP participation rates, coming in at only about 70 percent of those eligible being enrolled.
This trend may largely due to the complexity of social services enrollment. Navigating SNAP applications can be difficult, Kaiser Permanente acknowledges, let alone knowing whether one is even eligible for the benefits.
At the same time, patients with limited food access are extremely costly to the health system. A food insecure patient can cost about 45 percent more than those who do have access to healthy food. Enrolling on SNAP can save a low-income individual about $1,400 annually, compared to individuals who are also low-income but not enrolled in SNAP.
“Not having consistent access to healthy, affordable food impacts health and the cost of health care,” said Pamela Schwartz, MPH, executive director of Kaiser Permanente Community Health. “There are people who may be eligible for CalFresh benefits who haven’t applied and there are also members who may now be eligible for the first time. When members hear from their health care provider — a trusted source — that they should consider applying for benefits, they are more likely to take that seriously.”
The first round of the Food for Life patient outreach included text messages to 850,000 Kaiser Permanente members, 15,000 of whom ended up applying for and receiving SNAP benefits.
This program comes as California pilots a program expanding SNAP benefits to online shopping for groceries. In the age of the coronavirus, social distancing and even full self-quarantine come highly recommended by public health officials. For many patients with chronic illness or comorbidities that could make that high-risk for coronavirus, this could mean staying away from the grocery store altogether. To be sure, there is notable overlap between individuals with high-risk comorbidities who are also SNAP beneficiaries.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, SNAP benefits were for in-store use only. But as more patients sit out trips to the supermarket, the US Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP benefits, is making some changes.
In an April 8 announcement, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a pilot program with California and Arizona testing out the use of SNAP benefits for online grocery retail. In other words, beneficiaries could use their SNAP benefits on population online grocery delivery services, like InstaCart of Amazon Fresh.
“We are expanding new flexibilities and innovative programs to make sure Americans across this country have safe and nutritious food during this national emergency,” Perdue said in a statement. “Enabling people to purchase foods online will go a long way in helping Americans follow CDC social distancing guidelines and help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). USDA is mandated with the noble goal of feeding Americans when they need it most, and we are fulfilling that mission with new innovative programs during this national emergency.”
Since the pilot launch, USDA expanded the program to Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas.
Source: PatientEngagement HIT