According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every eight U.S. households experiences food insecurity. Access to healthy food is an important socioeconomic factor, or social determinant, in one's health, and for millions of Americans, it remains elusive.
"An inability to access healthy food, and the important nutrients they contain, can cause both immediate and long-term health problems, especially for children. For many Americans of lesser means, this problem can stem from a lack of healthy food sources in their neighborhood and means of transportation to access sources in other communities," said Dr. Andrea Gelzer, senior vice president of medical affairs for AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in Medicaid managed care and other health care solutions for those most in need. "These are two of a number of social barriers to good health and well-being. And as a Medicaid managed care organization (MCO), we are placing an increasing emphasis on helping our members find and access sources of fresh produce, grains, and other nutritious foods."
Here are some resources that Americans most in need can turn to for finding and obtaining healthy food:
Grocery Store Programs
An increasing number of grocery stores have nutritionists on staff. They meet with customers, tell them how they can make their diet healthier, and even teach them how to find healthier foods. Some grocery stores also offer cooking demonstrations. Some supermarket companies specialize in offering products, programs, and services that better meet the needs of people with limited financial resources. At the very least, large grocery stores offer a much wider variety of fresh produce, whole grains, and other healthy foods than are often available in small neighborhood stores.
It is true that many low-income communities lack such grocery stores, and people without their own cars may have difficulty accessing these healthy food sources. Medicaid enrollees who are eligible for home and community-based services (HCBS) can obtain transportation for non-medical services such as grocery shopping. Senior citizens may also be able to access para-transit services. Medicaid enrollees who are covered by a managed care plan (see below) but don't qualify for HCBS or senior citizen services can check with their health plan to see what resources might be available.
Organizations in Your Community
If your challenge is less about finding sources of healthy food than getting to them, there are local organizations that can help you shop for groceries, or even do it completely on your behalf. There are also food banks, some of which have off-site distributions, even in rural areas.
If you are covered by a Medicaid MCO, your assigned care manager, care connector, case manager, or service coordinator (the exact term can vary by state, MCO, and the exact service being provided) can direct you to these organizations. If you are a senior citizen, you can find out about them by contacting your local area agency on aging.
Ask Your Health Plan
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 38 states and the District of Columbia use MCOs to cover at least some of their Medicaid population. AmeriHealth Caritas' Medicaid health plans provide services to help their members learn how to eat right and access the foods they need to do so.
Medicaid enrollees covered by other MCOs, or by fee-for-service Medicaid, should check with their respective member services teams to find out what assistance is available to them.
Look for Faith-based Groups
Religious institutions of all faiths generally have it in their mission to provide aid to those in need. Some organize food drives or even prepare meals for the neediest. At the very least, they can help find other organizations which provide such services.