A health insurance-sponsored trial program is testing whether delivering healthy meals can cut hospital visits.

Credit: Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

When we talk healthcare, we typically think of doctors’ visits and getting 50 CCs, stat! But people’s diets also play a major role in their overall wellbeing, and a poor diet can lead to a higher likelihood of health problems. So though delivering healthy meals might sound like an unorthodox endeavor for a health insurance company, as far as preventative care is concerned, the plan might make more sense than first meets the eye.

The Health Care Service Corporation — one of America’s largest health insurers —has partnered with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute (both of which are under the Blue Cross Blue Shield umbrella) to launch FoodQ, billed as “a healthy food delivery service that brings nutritious, affordable meals directly to people living in areas that lack adequate access to fresh foods that make up a healthy diet, known as food deserts.” The project is part of these organizations’ larger “Affordability Cures” initiative which seeks “to develop long-term solutions that address the root causes of an expensive health care system.”

FoodQ is initially being tested in 25 Chicago zip codes and 15 Dallas zip codes considered to fit this food desert profile. (The list of zip codes can be found here.) HCSC operates in all of these areas, but anyone within these zip codes can participate regardless of their insurance.

“We know a ZIP code is just as important as a genetic code in determining a person’s health — impacting medical needs and access to care,” Trent Haywood, president of the BCBS Institute, said in a statement. “As a physician, I know I can easily write a prescription, but what I don’t know is how am I going to make sure patients have access to healthy meals they can afford and want to eat. With the alarming rates of obesity and diabetes in our country, we need a different approach to supporting healthy living, and this pilot program can help remove the barriers that keep people from accessing healthy, affordable and nutritious foods.”

Interested parties sign up for the program online at foodqhub.com. Users can choose from ready-to-heat lunch and dinner options in five categories: beef, chicken, fish, pork, and vegetarian. Individual meals are not particularly cheap — $10, plus a $6 delivery fee on the total order — however, the price comes down significantly with a $10 monthly subscription. In that plan, delivery fees are waved and all meals are buy-one-get-one-free. As for the food itself — which contains choices like Italian Cheese Pasta, Adobo Marinated Pork, and a Turkey Chorizo Burger — it’s prepared by Kitchfix, a company that already offers similar, non-insurance company-sponsored meal services around the Chicago area.

The six-month trial program launched in Chicago last week and starts in Dallas in April. Interestingly, HCSC and BCBSI say they plan to “assess any correlation between nutritious meal consumption and avoidable hospital and emergency room visits” during the program. Who knows… Depending on how the numbers turn out, maybe healthy meals should be covered as part of your insurance plan?