Families using SNAP benefits could see decrease in ER visits

2 months 2 weeks 5 days ago February 03, 2017 Feb 3, 2017 Friday, February 03 2017 Friday, February 03, 2017 3:30:00 PM CST in News
By: John Saltzman, KOMU 8 News
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COLUMBIA — The ER could see a lighter workload as a result of increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to a news release from the University of Missouri, the increase in benefits has directly affected families and hospitals of those who utilize SNAP services. Since 2000 extreme poverty has been reduced by 13.2 percent and childhood poverty has been reduced by 15.5 percent.

Colleen Heflin, a professor at the University of Missouri, and her team found that not only are poverty numbers dropping, but ER visits related to food insecurity are decreasing as well.

“We found that as the size of the SNAP benefit increased, that the probability of going to the ER decreased, which suggests that there is a protective benefit of SNAP benefits on health so this might suggest that we can even save money in the public health fund for Medicaid,” Heflin said.

The main cause of ER visits for people using SNAP benefits are people who suffer from hypoglycemia. According to the research conducted by Heflin and her team, the average medical cost associated with hypoglycemia was $1,186 per ER visit for individuals in extreme poverty.

Even a small increase in SNAP funding can cause a big decrease in ER visits, Heflin's team found. A 100-dollar increase in benefits decreased ER visits by 13 percent.

“An increase from 575 dollars to 675 dollars is associated with a reduction of 30 out of every 100,000 visits,” Heflin said.

The research suggests that the increase can also help low-income families manage their food consumption over the month.

“Food insecurity rose during the great recession (2008) to about 14 percent nationwide, which is fairly common. There are a large number of households even in a thriving community like Columbia, that are having difficulties meeting their food needs,” Heflin said.

Heflin and her team are hopeful this can positively affect a number of different groups. The research has suggested to be beneficial in reducing ER visits, saving money for families because of this reduction, healthcare facilities, and taxpayers.

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