By Adding SNAP Benefits for Seniors to Medicare, Medicaid Can Reduce Hospital Visits and Health Care Costs


CHAPEL HILL, NC – (COMMERCIAL THREAD) – Food insecurity among the elderly weighs on the nutrition and health of those affected. According to 2019 data, 5.2 million people aged 60 and over in the United States were food insecure – or 7.1% of that population – and that number has likely increased during the COVID pandemic -19.

Seniors facing food insecurity are more likely to have chronic health problems like depression, asthma, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and heart attack. Only 48% of seniors eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which offers benefits to supplement budgets to purchase healthy and nutritious foods, are enrolled in the program.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows the importance for the elderly to take advantage of this nutritional benefit, as it is associated with fewer hospital visits and lower healthcare costs.

“Providing income support to the elderly is extremely important for health,” said lead author of the study, Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, MPH, assistant professor of general medicine and epidemiology at UNC. School of Medicine. “In addition to affecting the foods they have access to, food insecurity can force people to choose between food and medicine or other basic needs, and worsen mental health. All of this has an impact on what is already a high risk group for poor health outcomes. ”

The study used a unique circumstance to better assess the association between participation in the SNAP program and health care use and cost. In 2017, Benefits Data Trust – a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping people access essential public benefits and services – was contracted by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to help seniors 65 and over who were dual eligible for Medicare and Medicaid to enroll. BREAK. BDT provided these people with contacts by mail, pre-screening by phone, and – if the person chose to join SNAP – the nonprofit would help them apply. This circumstance allowed previously unavailable links between datasets related to SNAP scope, SNAP participation, and health care utilization and cost.

The researchers used data from BDT’s outreach to more than 115,000 people aged 65 and older in North Carolina between 2016 and 2020 who were doubly eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, and were SNAP eligible but not enrolled. Almost 5,100 of those who received information about SNAP benefits signed up for the program. Enrollment in the SNAP program has been associated with a decrease in hospitalizations, emergency department visits, long-term care admissions, as well as a decrease in Medicaid payments per person per year.

“Billions of dollars in food aid and health care go untapped each year, often because people don’t know they are eligible or don’t know how to access them,” said Pauline Abernathy, director of strategy at BDT. “These research results show that awareness and support for data-driven applications dramatically increases participation in SNAP, which in turn dramatically improves health and lowers Medicaid costs. With millions of people aged 65 and over eligible but not participating in SNAP, this research underscores the urgent need to increase awareness and streamline enrollment.

Study co-authors include Deepak Palakshappa, MD, MSHP, and Joseph Rigdon, PhD, of the Wake Forest School of Medicine; Hilary K. Seligman, MD, MAS, University of California, San Francisco; and Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD, of the Center for Primary Care, Harvard Medical School.

This study was primarily funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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