28 September, 2009

A Novel Funding Approach

Note: This article was originally published on Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry website.

Operation FrontlineOperation Frontline does a good job of teaching low-income families how to cook delicious & nutritious meals with limited funds, but finding the money necessary to expand the program to every area it is needed is difficult even for an organization like Share Our Strength.
One idea for increasing available funds for programs like Operation Frontline is to reach out to health insurers. After all, it is clear that eating healthy food on a regular basis will not only help to create less health problems later on, but will also ensure that insurance companies don’t have to pay out for problems that will be prevented by this change to a proper diet.
Of course, even in the best scenario, this idea will not help everyone. The incentive for insurers to fund programs like Operation Frontline only exists if those the program helps are also insured by those same providers. Obviously, many of the families in these programs do not have health insurance at all.
But even if everyone was insured, this scheme does not work. It has already been tried, and it has failed.
Great MovesRoberta Clarke of Great Moves, a pediatric weight management center in Boston, explains: “Initial meetings 18 months earlier with the insurance companies had suggested that, if the program worked — that is, for example, if the children’s body mass index numbers started to stabilize or fall rather than rise — insurers would discuss paying part of the program cost.”
But after results starting coming in, Insurers started changing their tune. “[They said] they would not pay for the program, not because the program did not work but because it did not meet their 12-month return-on-investment goal.” Even though insurers agreed that the individuals themselves would be healthier and would present less of a risk for a hospital visit that they would have to pay out for, they still refused to pay for the program because by the time health benefits started to appear, the average family would have moved on to a different health provider. In essence, insurers did not want to pay up front for a benefit that another health insurer would receive.
Fulfilling the President's CallIf you want to get a few more details on the specifics, Roberta Clarke wrote a great account of this over at boston.com. But what I’m concerned most with from this is the idea that the funding for real solutions like Operation Frontline seem to come only from charities like Share Our Strength. This is most definitely not ideal. We need strong public/private partnerships, like the kinds Billy Shore and Tom Freedman proposed through the Democratic Leadership Council.
Share Our Strength is already doing great state partnership work as a test case for the entire nation. With good, old fashioned hard work, and a little luck, Share Our Strength will be able to leverage these test cases into a framework that will push us toward our goal of ending childhood hunger in America by 2015.
We hope you’ll all be along for the ride.

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