( Photo courtesy Justin Haugen Photography )

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Six years after creating FarmBox Direct to deliver fresh produce boxes to customers across the U.S., Ashley Tyrner is undertaking an attempt to fundamentally change the way insurance companies treat diet-related conditions.

Tyrner spoke Jan. 11 at The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Expo about the aspirations for FarmBoxRX, a new offshoot of FarmBox Direct that has penned a deal with insurance company Vibra Health to deliver fruit and vegetable boxes as a preventative care measure. The partnership with Vibra Health Plan provides free food boxes to elderly medicare patients with diet and chronic-related illnesses such as diabetes and renal failure.

“In ten years, it’s just going to be normal that your insurance provider, if you go to the doctor and you find out you have type 1 diabetes, your doctor is going to write you a prescription for a FarmBoxRX box,” she said. “This program will revolutionize healthcare in our country.”

The government’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is providing $25 per patient per month and the Vibra Health is matching that, she said.

FarmBoxRX boxes began shipping this month, Tyrner said, and include usage ideas. 

Higher prices for organic produce compared with conventional fruits and vegetables prevent organic from being part of the FarmBoxRX program, at least for now, she said.

Creating easier access to fresh produce for consumers living in food deserts has been the goal of FarmBox Direct, along with the mission to provide education on how to eat healthy, she said. Tyrner once worked in the Obama administration on food policy, and Obama nutrition advisor Sam Kass is a FarmBox shareholder.

“I realized that once of the ways to really eradicate the problem was to try to partner with a healthcare provider,” Tyrner said. “Let me tell you, trying to break into the healthcare realm and get an insurance company to go out on a limb and try to create a program around shipping fruits and vegetables to their patients was not easy.”

That process took several years; the first boxes shipped from Liberty Fruit, Kansas City, Kan., in early January.

Revolutionary times

Tyrner said the program offers the potential of improving diets and lowering healthcare costs. With nearly half of children in the U.S. considered obese, the need for action is great, she said.

“The average that a healthcare provider spends on a diabetic patient a month is $4,000,” she said.

Shipping patients fruits and vegetables to potentially lower health insurance claims by more than half makes sense, she said. 

“Insurance companies are doing this to lower claims costs and our government is actually starting to pay attention,” she said. “We can lower our tax burden by changing people’s nutrition, so produce right now is a really great industry to be in.”

FarmBox Direct and FarmBoxRX use Liberty Fruit to fulfill orders, shipping via the United Parcel Service and FedEx.

Tyrner said the program will grow substantially in 2021 — with expectations of 800,000 people receiving monthly boxes tailored to their dietary needs — as more insurance companies participate. 

FarmBox plans to hire dietitians in 2021 to help recipients get the most from the boxes.

She said speaking at GOPEX gave her a needed opportunity to meet suppliers.

“This was an important place for me to speak today is because I want to educate the patients on what they need to be doing with what’s in the box, and show them exactly where their food is coming from.”

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