FLPC and Partner Launch the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) is excited to announce the launch of our latest project, the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas. The Atlas is a two-year collaborative project that will chart the laws and policies affecting food donation in 15 different countries as well as provide best practices and guidance on how laws and policies can be improved to both increase food donations and decrease food waste.

According to the United Nations, more than enough food is produced to feed every person in the world, yet an estimated 821 million people globally suffer from hunger. While millions of people go without adequate food, one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Because food is heavily regulated, and food safety laws can pose barriers to the creation of food donation programs in many countries, redirecting safe, surplus food can be difficult and complicated. Not knowing what safety rules apply to donations, or being forced to bear a tax burden for donated food, can pose insurmountable barriers to donation. 

Around the world, communities are actively implementing and advocating for policy reforms to help move safe, surplus food into the hands of those who need it. The Atlas will contribute to these efforts by providing research to help make sense of laws relating to food donation, compare food-donation laws across countries and regions, analyze food donation barriers, and share best practices and recommendations for policy improvements.

To undertake this first-of-its-kind project, FLPC is partnering with the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), with the support of the Walmart Foundation.  In building the Atlas, FLPC will rely heavily on GFN’s on-the-ground food-bank partners, as well as other key stakeholders in the 15 countries, such as food-rescue organizations and other non-profits, food donors, government agencies, and academics.  In addition to providing written legal guides to food donation and policy considerations for each country, the Atlas will outline its findings with a website and interactive map presenting countries’ food donation laws.

Both FLPC and GFN identified 15 countries where the Atlas could be especially useful.  In the first year, the Atlas will focus on Argentina, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and the United States.  The second year will bring in ten more countries.

“In the U.S., our work has uncovered unclear or confusing laws that lead to unnecessary food waste. Businesses throw food away because they do not know what safety rules apply to donations, or because they cannot access tax credits to cover the cost of transporting such food,” says Emily Broad Leib, FLPC’s director. “We are thrilled to collaborate with GFN and our in-country partners to examine these issues in a range of countries, aiming to reduce barriers, learn best practices and build more thoughtful policies to get food to those in need.”

Since the release of The Dating Game in 2013, which exposed how much food waste is related to misleading date labels, FLPC has been at the forefront of policy research on reducing food waste in the United States and is excited to expand our footprint to different countries.

Looking back at FLPC’s work on food waste reduction and recovery, we have worked actively in over a dozen states to provide technical assistance on state laws and policy changes, and our students have developed fact sheets on date labeling, tax incentives, and liability protections in a number of states. We also collaborate with advocates in a number of states to review and support legislation that reduces food waste and increases food recovery. For example, FLPC worked with advocates in California to support legislation to standardize date labels and expand liability protections. Both bills were signed into law in October 2017. FLPC’s work across the United States in this space will be highly beneficial as the Atlas seeks to understand national laws relating to food donation, compare laws across countries and regions, learn about food donation barriers, and share best practices and recommendations.

Ultimately, the Atlas will culminate in a website featuring an interactive map of food donation policies that allows users to compare food donation laws across countries; written legal guides summarizing food donation laws for each country; policy suggestions for each country based on local interviews and comparative research; and presentations of findings at public conferences and events.

Read the press release for the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas

View a one-pager on the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas

View FLPC publications related to food waste reduction and food recovery:

Mississippi Health Care Providers Breaking the Law with Large Medical Bills that Patients Don’t Have to Pay, Report Finds

Originally published by Mississippi Today on March 11, 2019. Written by Anna Wolfe.

Health care providers in Mississippi continue to break the law by sending patients large, out-of-pocket medical bills that they don’t have to pay, concludes a Harvard Law School report released Monday.

The Legislature passed a law in 2013 to prohibit what is known as “balance billing” – when a provider bills a patient for the difference between the initial charges and the amount paid after insurance benefits are assigned.

But the law contains few enforcement measures, so patients must know about the law and challenge balance bills in order to benefit from the legislation, which was enacted under the radar of many officials and health care providers. Feeble efforts to strengthen protections in the law during the 2019 legislative session were unsuccessful.

Michelle Mills received a balance bill in 2018 when her son experienced a sports injury and went to a hospital in her insurance carrier’s network, River Oaks hospital in Flowood, but was treated by an out-of-network emergency physician.

Across the country, 65 percent of hospitals contract with outside agencies for emergency room doctors who are not necessarily included in the same insurance network as the hospital, according to a 2017 report by Yale University.

The independent physician staffing group called Capital Emergency Physicians, which used River Oaks’ address when it incorporated as a business in 2013, charged Mills $1,853, all but $38 it asked her to pay out-of-pocket. Though it was an illegal bill, she challenged it with her insurance carrier, which reversed the first assignment and paid most of the bill.

Mills was successful in disputing the charges, but she said it’s “infuriating” to think about all the people who don’t know they can challenge these bills, who end up paying, or worse, whose debt turns over to collections.

Capital Emergency Physicians did not return calls to Mississippi Today.

“Unfortunately, our collective trust of the provider community is being abused to the detriment of our bank accounts,” Roy Mitchell, director of Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, said in a release announcing the Harvard report. “It is time our policymakers even the playing field for Mississippi’s health consumers.”

In its report, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School found that Mississippi’s anti-balance billing law, which was one of the first and strongest enacted in the country, needs revising.

“Despite the state’s leadership on this issue, Mississippians like Michelle Mills report that they are still receiving balance bills — in violation of state law. In fact, a January 2019 poll reported that 4 in 10 Mississippians have received or have a family member who received a surprise medical bill,” the report reads.

House Insurance Chairman Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, authored a bill to require the attorney general’s office to enforce the law and establish binding arbitration to resolve any balance billing disputes between providers and patients.

He never brought the bill to a vote in his committee, telling Mississippi Today that several lawmakers who are also medical professionals — nurses and nurse practitioners — voiced opposition to his bill.

“They want to be able to get their money,” Chism said at the time.

According to a Mississippi Today analysis of legislative members, there is one nurse, Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, and one nurse practitioner, Rep. Donnie Scoggin, R-Ellisville, in the House. Currie declined to comment on the legislation and Scoggins said he did not discuss the bill with Chism.

Scoggins said he has not been presented with concerns over illegal balance billing from his constituents, but said if it is still happening, he would be in favor of strengthening the enforcement measures.

The lack of knowledge surrounding the law and what exactly constitutes “balance billing” complicates the issue. What might be viewed as a loophole for a few patients who understand the law could receive pushback from the medical community if lawmakers bring it to light and force providers to comply.

Georgia’s state senate passed anti-balance billing legislation last week that would require insurers to pay these surprise, out-of-network bills at an amount determined by a database of paid bills, as opposed to simply prohibiting providers from sending these bills to patients. Mississippi’s law greatly favors insurers in this way.

The Harvard report also suggests large, surprise balance bills could be contributing to Mississippi’s high rate of people with past due medical debt — the highest in the country at 37.4 percent.

The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation Highlights Policies That Would Strengthen Balance Billing Protections in Mississippi

The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School announces the release of Unfinished Business: Bolstering Balance Billing Protections in Mississippi.  The report provides an overview of Mississippi’s current law prohibiting “balance billing” and offers policy solutions that would strengthen enforcement mechanisms and protect Mississippi consumers from medical debt.

Mississippi health care providers are prohibited by law from billing patients after accepting payment from their insurance companies.  However, some providers have continued balance billing and have surprised patients with thousands of dollars in unforeseen medical bills.  “Patients don’t expect to get these medical bills,” said Roy Mitchell, Executive Director of Mississippi Health Advocacy Program.  “Providers aren’t allowed to send these bills if they already accepted payment from the insurer, but no one is making sure they comply with the law.  Unfortunately, our collective trust of the provider community is being abused to the detriment of our bank accounts.  It is time our policymakers even the playing field for Mississippi’s health consumers.”

Unfinished Business: Bolstering Balance Billing Protections in Mississippi highlights steps the legislature can take to improve compliance with Mississippi’s existing law and incorporate best practices that have emerged since the state first prohibited balance billing in 2013.  The report includes examples of how states like Texas and Florida have addressed balance billing and saved their residents millions of dollars.

Robert Greenwald, Faculty Director of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School, said, “Unfinished Business is a tool for state legislators and consumer advocates.  Mississippi’s law needs to be strengthened so state officials can effectively enforce existing law and protect patients from illegal balance billing.”

Mississippi voters overwhelmingly support practical solutions to this issue.  A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy in January 2019 found that 85% of interviewed voters supported a state law that would protect patients by requiring health care providers and insurance companies to resolve payment disputes between themselves.  Additionally, 82% supported explicitly giving the state Attorney General authority to investigate complaints and enforce Mississippi’s balance billing law. 

Despite voter support for meaningful policy, Mississippi legislators have failed to pass legislation that would strengthen existing law.  Health care providers, insurers, small businesses, and consumer advocates have worked together in at least 25 states to find solutions that protect patients and families.  Maryanne Tomazic, Clinical Fellow at the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, explained, “Other states are using best practices that not only protect consumers, but also ensure that reasonable payments are made between insurers and health care providers.” 

For more information about the report, visit here.


RFP: Approaches to Reducing Consumption of Sugar

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), with support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is working with community organizations and government entities to identify locally-supported policies that will reduce sugar consumption and build capacity for policy change. Excess consumption of sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related chronic diseases that have tremendous social and economic costs. Reducing population-level consumption of sugar is one of the most promising strategies for addressing these pressing public health concerns.

FLPC is offering pro bono technical assistance (TA) to community organizations, food policy councils, and local, state, and tribal government entities across the United States interested in implementing innovative sugar-reduction policies.

A request for proposals (RFP) application will remain open until May 1, 2019. FLPC anticipates making two TA awards as a result of this RFP. TA grantees will be notified by May 31, 2019. Please contact flpc@law.harvard.edu with any questions.

Read the RFP.

FLPC Releases Advocacy and Lobbying Guide for Food Policy Councils

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) released a new resource today for food policy councils and others working to change the food system. Advocacy & Lobbying 101 for Food Policy Councils was created to equip food policy councils in the US with legal information necessary to know how they are allowed to influence policy decisions by local, state, and federal government. 

A recent survey found that the vast majority of food policy councils are actively engaged in advocacy work. Advocacy activities involving interactions with government policymakers to shape specific legislation may require adherence to specific laws and regulations known as “lobbying” laws.

“Creating change in the food system requires educating, organizing, and persuading others that change is necessary and feasible,” said Anne Palmer, program director at CLF. “This guide is intended to assist councils to understand how lobbying laws apply to their work, and how to proceed legally when attempting to influence government policymakers.”

The guide discusses what it means to lobby the government, explains how lobbying differs from general advocacy work, and addresses topics that every food policy council should consider before engaging in advocacy or lobbying. It also examines how the different organizational structures of councils affect what they may do to lobby and provides case studies to illustrate how councils have successfully and legally influenced government policy.

“A food policy council should not shy away from trying to influence government policy simply because these laws exist,” said Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. “We hope this guide empowers councils to confidently navigate applicable state and federal lobbying laws — they will learn that much work on policy issues is not restricted because it is considered advocacy, not lobbying, and may even realize that their opportunities to lobby legally are far greater than previously thought.”

Read Advocacy & Lobbying 101 for Food Policy Councils.


Mississippi Delta Fellowship 2019-2021: Applications Being Accepted

Mississippi Delta Fellowship, 2019 – 2021
Full Delta Fellowship Application Description, Details, and Requirements

Applications due by midnight on March 25, 2019

Based in the Mississippi Delta, the Delta Fellowship provides a unique opportunity for law school graduates to inform and catalyze community change through the creation, development, and management of interdisciplinary projects. The Delta Fellow will build on existing projects, launch new projects in partnership with Delta Directions partners (which include programs at University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, Harvard Law School, and Harvard School of Public Health), and have the opportunity to design one new signature project for completion during their tenure, subject to review and input by members of the Delta Directions Consortium. The Fellowship is hosted by the University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies, and supported by the Winokur Family Foundation and Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.

Previous and current project themes of the Delta Directions Consortium include:

  • Food Policy: Delta Fellows’ work has included establishing and supporting the Mississippi Food Policy Council; supporting the launch of farm to school programs throughout the state; assisting small farmers by publishing guides and conducting trainings; and working to increase food access in rural Mississippi.
  • Public Health: Delta Fellows’ projects have included supporting better mental health practices; promoting healthy practices like breastfeeding; providing research and recommendations on improving maternal and infant health; and conducting research on policy opportunities to support better lead testing in small rural water systems.
  • Economic Development: Delta Fellows’ work has included partnering with University of Mississippi to create a small business incubator and launch a transactional legal clinic; publishing guides to support small businesses; and publishing reports in support of economic development.

Principal responsibilities of the Delta Fellow include:

  • Managing existing and developing new projects, based on local needs, research, evidence-based results, interdisciplinary opportunities, and interest from Delta Directions partners;
  • Researching, drafting, and editing policy and research reports, and educating community partners and policymakers on the research;
  • Planning and advising clinical and pro bono projects for Harvard Law students in the HLS Mississippi Delta Project, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, and other Harvard Law School clinics;
  • Identifying opportunities for and mentoring college students from local universities to work in the Delta;
  • Helping to plan and host the annual Delta Regional Forum;
  • Reporting twice annually to Delta Directions Advisory Committee and preparing a public annual report; and
  • Supporting coordination, growth, and development of the Delta Directions Consortium.

For more information, please visit http://www.deltadirections.com (for information about Delta Directions) and http://www.chlpi.org (for information about the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation). Applications are due midnight on March 25, 2019.