WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y., August 21, 2013 – Independent Health is the first health plan in New York State to introduce a nutrition benefit as part of its health coverage that provides members with the opportunity to receive money-back rewards for buying fresh fruits and vegetables. The nutrition benefit will be available exclusively to Independent Health members beginning January 1, 2014.
Michael W. Cropp, M.D., president and CEO, Independent Health, said the nutrition benefit is a unique product feature that seeks to improve the health and well-being of the community by making access to fresh fruits and vegetables affordable, and by keeping its members engaged and well informed about the benefits of proper nutrition and reduced risk factors.
“Diet and exercise are key contributors to wellness and good health,” said Dr. Cropp. “Providing easier access to healthy eating and better nutrition is one of the many tools Independent Health offers our members to help them become more engaged in their health and develop sustainable fitness and lifestyle behaviors. This benefit represents a powerful vision for an expanded relationship with our members.
“As the first health plan in New York to offer gym benefits through our FlexFit plan in 2003, and the first plan to offer financial incentives for personal health engagement through our Empower plan in 2010, Independent Health continues to provide our members and various stakeholders with the tools and resources that will help improve their health and the health of our community.
“We were also trailblazers in providing our members with a zero-dollar copay for preventive care in 2009 and a wide array of health and wellness efforts such as health coaches and educational programs to help combat chronic disease. Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management are now mandated as Essential Health Benefits required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA),” said Dr. Cropp.
The nutrition benefit will be available as an option on the majority of the new individual and small group products that will be offered for January 2014. It will also be available as a rider on plans offered to large employer groups.
The nutrition benefit will be available through all Tops Friendly Market Stores in Western New York. For every $2 an Independent Health member spends on fresh fruits and vegetables at Tops, the member will receive a $1 credit for in-store grocery purchases. Members can earn up to $1,000 on their food purchases each year on a family plan and up to $500 on a single plan, with the benefit rewards to be tracked through the Tops BonusPlus program.
“As a local company, we are always looking for ways to help our neighbors make good nutritional decisions for themselves and their families,” said Frank Curci, Tops Markets’ president and CEO. “We are proud to partner with Independent Health to bring this convenient, affordable and valuable benefit option to the western New York community.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy lifestyle helps reduce the risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke, and protects against certain types of cancers. The Harvard School of Public Health says such a diet can also help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a mellowing effect on blood sugar, which in turn can help keep an individual’s appetite in check.
The latest dietary guidelines call for a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, depending on one’s caloric intake, age, sex and physical activity. However, the average American only gets a total of about three servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Here in Western New York, only 25 percent of adults are eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, according to Western New York Health Care Performance Measures.
“At Independent Health, we realize the daily demands and busy schedules make it challenging for some people to meet exercise and nutrition goals needed for a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Cropp. “That’s why we’re introducing this nutrition benefit to make it easier for people to have a healthier diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. It helps them take charge of their health.”
Jennifer Kovalick, MS, RD, CDN, a nutritionist from Independent Health’s wellness department, praised the effort. “Creating greater access to quality, affordable and healthy food consumption is a critical step in improving our population’s health and wellness,” Kovalick said.
“Eating healthy by increasing the daily intake of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to improve one’s overall health and wellness. They contain the ingredients that help fight disease, taste great, are low in calories and high in fiber, which results in better weight management,” said Kovalick.
Research recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports the U.S. lags behind other nations in making healthy choices – ranking 27th of 34 in high body mass index, an indicator of obesity, and 29th on blood sugar, which is tied to diabetes. The research also found chronic conditions, including many caused by unhealthy behaviors, account for a larger portion of health issues in the U.S. than other nations surveyed.
“Up to 75 percent of U.S. medical costs are due to chronic disease, so efforts such as this can help Americans live healthier lives and reverse the high cost of health care,” Kovalick said.
Dr. Cropp said he believes the nutrition benefit will also help parents teach their children healthy eating habits.
“Child obesity is a growing concern in our region and throughout the U.S.,” said Dr. Cropp. “In one generation alone, the rates of obesity have tripled in preschoolers and adolescents, and quadrupled among children between the ages of six and 11, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. At Independent Health we are committed to reversing this trend through community-wide programs and sponsorships such as Biggest Loser Resort Niagara, Fitness for Kids, Soccer for Success, Explore You, Fitness in the Parks, and FitStart – where lifelong health and fitness begin.
“A new report issued early this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the first evidence of a slight decline in child obesity for low-income children between the ages of two and four, which is an encouraging start. Reaching youngsters is critical because overweight and obese children are five times as likely as children of normal weight to be overweight or obese in adulthood. We believe our nutrition benefit program can help play a role in getting kids off to a healthy start,” said Dr. Cropp.
Independent Health’s new products for 2014, which are still under review by the New York State Department of Financial Services, will include choices of fitness or nutrition benefits.
Headquartered in Buffalo, Independent Health began operations in 1980 and has consistently been rated among the top health plans in the country for customer service and member satisfaction. Independent Health’s comprehensive portfolio of product and service offerings include fully insured group products, individual plans, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care plans, traditional indemnity insurance, consumer-directed plans, and self-funded administration. Independent Health’s subsidiary companies include Pharmacy Benefit Dimensions, Reliance Rx, and Nova Healthcare Administrators, Inc. For more information, visit www.independenthealth.com.
Tops Markets, LLC, is headquartered in Williamsville, NY and operates 159 full-service supermarkets – 154 company-owned and five franchise locations under the Tops, Grand Union and Bryant's banners. With more than 15,000 associates, Tops is a leading full-service grocery retailer in upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania and western Vermont. For more information about Tops Markets, visit the company's website at www.topsmarkets.com.