Adding SNAP Benefits for Older Adults in Medicare, Medicaid Can Reduce Hospital Visits, Healthcare Costs

Food insecurity in later life has a negative impact on nutrition and health, according to a survey from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to statistics from 2019, 5.2 million Americans 60 and over in the United States were food insecure, or 7.1% of that demographic.

Older individuals who are food insecure are more likely to have persistent health problems such as depression, asthma, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and heart attack. Only 48 percent of older Americans who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides financial assistance to customers to buy healthy and nutritious meals, sign up for the program.

According to a research published in the Journal of Nutrition, older individuals who seize this nutritional advantage are less likely to go to the hospital and require more medical treatment.

'The ability to live in their own home, maintain a routine and have access to financial resources lowers stress levels,' added study lead author Seth A. Berkowitz , MD, MPH, a University of North Carolina School of Medicine assistant professor of general medicine and epidemiology. Providing income support for older adults is particularly significant for health.' Food insecurity, for example, might lead to people being forced to choose between food and medicines or other important goods, which can have a detrimental impact on their mental health. 'The situation is even more dire when you consider that all of this has a negative impact on a group that is already at risk for poor health outcomes.

The study used a one-of-a-kind scenario to better examine the link between SNAP participation and healthcare utilization and cost. Benefits Data Trust, a national independent organization dedicated to assisting individuals in obtaining critical public benefits and services, was engaged by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to assist people age 65 and over who were dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid in signing up for SNAP in 2017. The charity cared for the elderly and disabled on a volunteer basis, educating them about their benefits and assisting them in completing applications. In addition to delivering outreach by mail, phone-based screening, and - if the client chose to enroll in SNAP - aiding with application filing, BDT handled it all. This allowed for previously unavailable connections between data sets concerning SNAP outreach, SNAP participation, and health-related expenditures and use.

Researchers obtained information from BDT's outreach to more than 115,000 individuals age 65 and older in North Carolina who were dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid and were qualified for SNAP but not enrolled between 2016 and 2020. Over 5,100 of those who received outreach into the program joined. When households qualified for the federal government's Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), they were able to receive state-level benefits other than food. The program was originally intended to help low-income families meet their basic needs such as food, housing, and health care. Families who received SNAP funds also had a lower rate of inpatient hospital visits

'Billions of dollars in food and healthcare aid go unspent each year,' said Pauline Abernathy, BDT's chief strategy officer, 'often because people are unaware that they are eligible or unsure how to access them.' [['These research findings show that data-driven outreach and application assistance significantly increase SNAP participation, which in turn markedly improves health and lowers Medicaid costs.]] 'This analysis emphasizes the vital need to improve outreach and simplify enrollment, given that millions of individuals 65 and older are eligible for SNAP but do not participate.

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