SNAP Provides More than Food Benefits

Each year, families and individuals on Medicaid go through a redetermination process to ensure they’re still eligible for this low- or no-cost health coverage. Unfortunately, millions of eligible people lose coverage at this time due to procedural barriers (lost paperwork, lack of timeliness by the state, wrong address on file with the state, etc.). This leads to forgone medical care and unexpected out-of-pocket expenses, leaving low-income families with fewer resources to meet day-to-day needs. Many of the people who lose coverage at the time of redetermination regain coverage by going through the application process. This process of losing coverage and re-applying, known as “churn,” is harmful to clients and costly to states. It is more expensive and time-consuming to process a full application than to renew benefits for those who remain eligible.

A recent analysis from Illinois suggests that participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) may help people maintain Medicaid coverage. While 44 percent of clients enrolled only in Medicaid lost benefits at renewal, just 22 percent of clients enrolled in both Medicaid and SNAP experienced such loss. Medicaid-only redetermination in Illinois is a unique process that involves a third party, which may partly account for the vast difference; however it’s still worth considering the implications of this data. 

There are several potential reasons why dual participants have higher retention rates. One is that SNAP recipients have to report their income more often. Consequently, states may already have the necessary information to renew these individuals’ Medicaid eligibility. Following the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states must first attempt a Medicaid renewal with available electronic data, such as data recently submitted to SNAP about household size and income. Additionally, clients may not realize that they have lost Medicaid coverage until the next time they get sick and try to see a doctor, but they will notice any gap in SNAP benefits right away. If they contact the state quickly enough, it is often possible to renew their case rather than forcing them to reapply.

For clients, the benefit of dual enrollment in Medicaid and SNAP is clear: assistance with nutrition and health needs. States may also benefit from dual enrollment in the form of Medicaid savings, since a recent study found that food-insecure individuals had health expenses 49 percent higher than food-secure individuals. A lower churn rate for clients dually enrolled further helps those clients maintain stability and saves the state administrative costs.

States should explore their own data to see if churn rates are lower for those dually enrolled and take steps to ensure that all those who are eligible for SNAP and Medicaid are enrolled in both programs.