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Affordable Care Act Could Improve Community Access to Healthy Food

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future researchers outline how food can help hospitals implement the ACA and curtail healthcare costs

Mar 17, 2016


By passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), Congress sought to transform how U.S. health care is financed and delivered. A guiding philosophy for the ACA has been the “Triple Aim,” to (1) improve population health, (2) reduce per-capita costs, and (3) improve patient experiences. A new report from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future suggests that all three of these aims can be bolstered by paying more attention to the food we eat.

The recommendations are significant given that the ACA now requires all nonprofit hospitals to conduct community health needs assessments every three years in the communities they serve and to adopt implementation strategies to address unmet needs. Further, the Internal Revenue Service requires each hospital to adopt an implementation strategy that addresses each significant health need or explain why the hospital does not intend to address a particular need. With the food-related health problems faced by so many Americans, a robust assessment should analyze the availability and cost of food in the community served by the hospital.
“Any serious attempt to improve population health and reduce per-capita costs must address the epidemic of diet-related diseases,” says Bob Martin, director of CLF’s Food System Policy Program and co-author of the report. “Cardiovascular diseases and diabetes mellitus rank among the most important causes of preventable morbidity, premature mortality, and health care spending in this country.”
The report describes how a subset of the health care system—tax-exempt hospitals—may utilize existing community benefits resources to support community-based disease prevention via food system change. According to Martin and colleagues, a large-scale shift among institutions such as hospitals, schools, universities, and other public institutions to procure more regionally and sustainably produced food has the potential to improve public health and shift the nation’s current food system. The ACA provides a framework for providers to improve population health and reduce per-capita costs by engaging and improving the food system.

The CLF has experience and expertise in assessing food systems, implementing and evaluating interventions, and advancing public policy in this domain. CLF experts are uniquely positioned to support innovative health care systems as well as community health needs assessments, implementation strategies, food policy advocacy, and food policy councils.

Achieving the Triple Aim in Health Care Reform: The Importance of the Food System” was written by Tyler Smith, Anne Palmer, Bob Martin, and Claire Fitch.