Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont Effort Leads to New Medical Codes Nationwide to Track Food Insecurity

Family working on a farm

Blue Cross and BlueShield of Vermont worked with a provider on the implementation of new ICD-10 codes to allow health care providers to better track and address food security issues.

Berlin, Vermont—Nearly four years ago, a family nurse practitioner in northern Vermont approached Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (Blue Cross) with a problem: how to track food insecurity through the health care system. Food insecurity is considered one of the social determinants of health and all too often, problem solving issues like food security, racism, and stable housing, are siloed away from health care. 

Blue Cross worked with the provider to pursue a request for the implementation of new medical codes pertaining to food insecurity to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In August, CMS granted approval for these codes, which will go live nationwide on October 1, 2021. These new diagnostic codes will help identify and track food insecurity through the health care data system in order for providers to better support nutrition care, referrals to community-based resources, and to more accurately measure targeted interventions.  

“In health care, codes are the way we communicate,” said Dr. Joshua Plavin, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Blue Cross and a practicing physician of Pediatric Internal Medicine. “These new codes are necessary for providers to be able to name what we see using the language we speak.” 

Blue Cross has long been committed to identifying and addressing the social determinants of health that have critical impacts on population health in Vermont. The provider’s idea was an opportunity to collaboratively support a prioritization of population health and preventive care across the system at large. 

“Adding coding specific to food insecurity creates a mechanism to identify and track a social determinant of health. It supports us to develop and implement care models to find solutions within our broader health system,” said Dr. Plavin.

The codes will identify lack of food, food insecurity, and lack of safe drinking water. As the proposal to implement the codes progressed, the codes were integrated into The Gravity Project, a national initiative to improve documentation of social determinants of health sponsored in part by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is Vermont’s only local, not-for-profit health plan. For over 30 years, the company has been enhancing the health and well-being of the Vermonters by offering innovative plans to individuals, seniors and businesses. Our employees are dedicated to developing new ways to support high quality care and programs and events that promote health and wellness. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.