Policy Brief: Seniors and SNAP
New cross-sector research indicates that access to SNAP reduces healthcare spending, improves health and allows low-income seniors to age in place with dignity. The lesson is clear. Investing in health upstream by helping vulnerable older individuals meet their basic needs and addressing key determinants of health directly results in lower healthcare utilization and better health.
Benefits Data Trust (BDT) set out with a team of highly skilled researchers to determine what impact the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) had on healthcare utilization and costs. The results of this compelling research are available in our policy brief: Access to Public Benefits among Dual Eligible Seniors Reduces Risk of Nursing Home and Hospital Admission and Cuts Costs.
The study is the first to examine the association between SNAP and both hospital and nursing home utilization. Researchers studied the entire population of 69,000 Maryland seniors on Medicaid and Medicare (dual eligibles). Individual-level medical claims data were cross-matched against SNAP enrollment data, and used to analyze the impact of SNAP on healthcare utilization and costs. The study found that:
- Although they qualify, 49% of seniors on Medicaid are not enrolled in SNAP.
- The average annual income for an older dual eligible was just $5,860.
- Access to SNAP reduces a senior’s likelihood of admission into a hospital by 14% and a nursing home by 23%.
- Every $10 increase in monthly SNAP benefits further reduced the odds of additional days in the hospital and shortened nursing home length of stay.
- Increased access to SNAP delivers $2,100 in annual healthcare savings per senior enrolled.
It’s simple: to keep our aging population healthy, they need to be able to eat. And right now, only 42% of low-income seniors get the SNAP benefits they are eligible to receive. This research shows we can help seniors meet their basic needs and reduce healthcare costs at the same time. It is our job to use this research to ensure every senior on Medicaid enrolls in SNAP.
If we want to make seniors healthier and fight poverty, we must ensure that programs such as SNAP remain intact and individuals are able to access them. BDT will continue its work to connect seniors with SNAP through data-driven strategies and advocate for smarter government design so that the system works for those who need it.
The studies were led by BDT, 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.
Samuel, L. J., Szanton, S. L., Cahill, R., Wolff, J. L., Ong, P., Zielinskie, G., & Betley, C. (2017). Does the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Affect Hospital Utilization Among Older Adults? The Case of Maryland. Population Health Management.
Szanton, S. L., Samuel, L. J., Cahill, R., Zielinskie, G., Wolff, J. L., Thorpe, R. J., & Betley, C. (2017). Food assistance is associated with decreased nursing home admissions for Maryland’s dually eligible older adults. BMC Geriatrics.
Zielinskie, G., Samuel, L. J., Szanton, S. L., Betley, C., & Cahill, R. (2017). Access to Public Benefits among Dual Eligible Seniors Reduces Risk of Nursing Home and Hospital Admission and Cuts Costs.
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