New research shows access to SNAP improves senior health and lowers healthcare costs

Older adults who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are less likely to be admitted into the hospital, according to new research published in Population Health Management journal out of Thomas Jefferson University. This study demonstrates the significant impact that increased access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can have on healthcare utilization and costs.

The study was led by national non-profit Benefits Data Trust, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Health, the Maryland Department of Human Services, The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, the Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Northwestern University, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The researchers studied all 68,956 Maryland seniors on Medicaid and Medicare (dual eligibles) with an average annual income of just $5,860. Individual-level medical claims data were cross-matched against SNAP enrollment data, and used to study the impact of SNAP on healthcare utilization and costs.

The study shows that:

  • Although they qualify, close to half of seniors on Medicaid are not enrolled in SNAP.
  • SNAP participation and greater benefit amounts reduced the odds of hospital admittance by 14% and reduced duration of stay when seniors were admitted.
  • Among SNAP recipients, every $10 increase in monthly SNAP benefits further reduced the odds of additional days in the hospital.

“If we truly want to control rising healthcare costs, we need to ensure that people can meet their basic needs,” states Ginger Zielinskie, President & CEO of Benefits Data Trust. “This research shows we can reduce senior hunger, improve overall health and save millions in state, federal and healthcare dollars every year. This work demonstrates how, together, we can positively influence the determinants of health and deliver on the triple aim.”

Health and human service systems, the healthcare sector and policymakers can leverage these findings to ensure all low-income seniors are able to meet their basic needs in order to lower healthcare costs and improve quality of life. Benefits Data Trust plans to expand the breadth of this research and continue to demonstrate the true value and outcomes associated with addressing social determinants.

Read the full publication.