When Food Stamp Benefits Go Up, These ER Visits Go Down

When Food Stamp Benefits Go Up, These ER Visits Go Down
Photo credit: Max Pixel. (Creative Commons Zero - CC0)

In 2014, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal program to address food insecurity in the United States, provided $70 billion in nutrition support to 46.5 million families and children living in 22.7 million American households.

Now, a new study shows that SNAP benefits may also help reduce visits to the emergency room, saving money for families, health care facilities, and taxpayers.

SNAP benefits reduced the incidence of extreme poverty by 13.2 percent and child poverty by 15.5 percent between 2000 and 2009, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

“According to prior research, the average medical costs associated with hypoglycemia requiring medical treatment was $1,186 per ER visit with costs often paid by Medicaid for individuals in extreme poverty,” says Colleen Heflin, professor of public affairs at the University of Missouri.

“Public safety net programs do not operate in silos; health cannot be addressed without attending to proper nutrition. Understanding how programs interact can improve policy programs while controlling costs.”

For the study, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers used data from the Missouri SNAP and Medicaid programs to identify the benefit size of SNAP and the timing of ER claims.

They then analyzed the relationship between receipt of SNAP benefits and use of health care. The analysis found a strong relationship between the size of the SNAP benefit and ER visits for hypoglycemia—a $100 increase in SNAP benefits decreased the likelihood of an ER visit for hypoglycemia by about 13 percent.

“This research suggests more generous SNAP benefits could help low-income families manage their household budgets,” says Leslie Hodges, a doctoral candidate in the Truman School of Public Affairs. “The SNAP program could help families avoid fluctuations in the quality and quantity of food that might result in low blood sugar severe enough to require treatment at the ER.”

The US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, supported the work. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agency.

Source: University of Missouri

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