CSA Health Insurance Rebates

Reader Contribution by Nicole Tichenor
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This post is reprinted with permission from The Rodale Institute.

In an effort to connect sustainable agriculture to the health care sector to promote healthier consumption, several groups are experimenting with a community supported agriculture (CSA) health insurance rebate. Here’s how it works: insurance policyholders read about member farms on the Coalition’s website, all of which are certified organic or have exempt status. They then contact a farmer directly to sign up and pay up front for the share, as with any traditional CSA. Finally, they fill out their respective health plan’s CSA rebate form (available online) and mail/fax it to the health plan with proof of payment and a copy of their sign-up form. A few weeks later, policyholders receive a reimbursement check for up to $100 for an individual contract or $200 for a family contract.

This concept was pioneered by the FairShare CSA Coalition, which began this program in southern Wisconsin in 2005 with one local health plan and a small group of farms. Eight years later, the program has grown to include four health plans and more than 40 farms. This partnership has been wildly successful: A 2011 study of the first five years of the program reported the total number of member farm shares offered yearly increased by 450 percent – from 2,000 to 9,000 shares. While the researchers could not control for other factors that could have increased membership, previous share growth and interview responses suggested that the rebate was highly influential. On the consumer side, health plans issued more than 20,000 rebates in the first five years, with an estimated total value of more than $3 million.

We already know that obesity and diet-related disease risk factors are strongly associated with higher health care costs, but whether a CSA rebate improves dietary quality and related health outcomes remains to be shown.  By quantifying this, we can make an even stronger case to insurance companies, employers and investors for the connection between healthy people, healthy food and healthy farms.

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