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JAMA Internal Medicine
Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest program aimed at alleviating food insecurity, was associated with reduced health care spending by low-income adults in the United States over a two-year period, according to a new study published by JAMA Internal Medicine.
SNAP serves approximately 1 in 7 Americans and provides a monthly benefit to supplement household budgets to buy food. SNAP eligibility is set at the federal level but enrollment policies vary by state. Policymakers and clinicians are interested in whether social programs such as SNAP can offer benefits to the health care sector.
Seth A. Berkowitz, M.D., M.P.H., of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and coauthors used survey data to explore the relationship between SNAP program participation and health care costs, while accounting for factors that may influence the likelihood of participating in SNAP.
The study included 4,447 adults with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold who participated in the 2011 National Health Interview Survey and the 2012-2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Of the 4,447 participants, 1,889 were SNAP participants and 2,558 were not.
SNAP program participation was associated with about $1,400 in lower subsequent health care costs per year per person for low-income adults, according to the results.
The study acknowledges limitations and notes questions remain unanswered, including the development of a deeper understanding of the mechanism by which SNAP and other food security assistance programs could lead to changes in health and health care expenditures.
“The results of this study have several policy indications. Prioritizing ways to make it easier for eligible Americans to enroll in SNAP is likely to be a feasible way to help reduce health care costs. … As an entitlement program, SNAP benefits are paid for by the federal government, while Medicaid, which would likely see some of the savings if health care costs are reduced, is paid for jointly by states and the federal government. … Although this study focused on health care expenditures, SNAP is a food insecurity and nutrition program, not a health care program. SNAP’s purpose is not to reduce health care expenditures, and we are of the opinion that its funding justification does not depend on affecting health care costs,” the article concludes.
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Editor’s Note: The study includes funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for conflict of interesting and funding/support disclosures. For more information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.
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