The Times West Virginian

Headline News

January 10, 2014

Doctors say cutting food stamps could backfire

WASHINGTON — Doctors are warning that if Congress cuts food stamps, the federal government could be socked with bigger health bills. Maybe not immediately, they say, but over time if the poor wind up in doctors’ offices or hospitals as a result.

Among the health risks of hunger are spiked rates of diabetes and developmental problems for young children down the road.

The doctors’ lobbying effort comes as Congress is working on a compromise farm bill that’s certain to include food stamp cuts. Republicans want heftier reductions than do Democrats in yet another partisan battle over the government’s role in helping poor Americans.  

Food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, feed 1 in 7 Americans and cost almost $80 billion a year, twice what it cost five years ago. Conservatives say the program spiraled out of control as the economy struggled and the costs are not sustainable. They say the neediest people will not go hungry.

The health and financial risks of hunger have not played a major role in the debate. But the medical community says cutting food aid could backfire through higher Medicaid and Medicare costs.

“If you’re interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,” said Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children’s HealthWatch pediatric research institute.

“People don’t make the hunger-health connection.”

A study published this week helps illustrate that link. Food banks report longer lines at the end of the month as families exhaust their grocery budgets, and California researchers found that more poor people with a dangerous diabetes complication are hospitalized then, too.

The researchers analyzed eight years of California hospital records to find cases of hypoglycemia, when blood sugar plummets, and link them to patients’ ZIP codes.

Among patients from low-income neighborhoods, hospitalizations were 27 percent higher in the last week of the month compared with the first, when most states send out government checks and food stamps, said lead researcher Dr. Hilary Seligman of the University of California, San Francisco. But hospitalizations didn’t increase among diabetics from higher-income areas, she reported Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs.

Seligman couldn’t prove that running low on food was to blame. But she called it the most logical culprit and said the cost of treating hypoglycemia even without a hospitalization could provide months of food stamp benefits.

“The cost trade-offs are sort of ridiculous,” Seligman said.

She is working on a project with Feeding America, a network of food banks, to try to improve health by providing extra, diabetes-appropriate foods, including fresh produce and whole-grain cereals and pastas, for diabetics at a few food banks in California, Texas and Ohio.

Last year, research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that a cut of $2 billion a year in food stamps could trigger in an increase of $15 billion in medical costs for diabetes over the next decade.

Other research shows children from food-insecure families are 30 percent more likely to have been hospitalized for a range of illnesses. But after a temporary boost in benefits from the 2009 economic stimulus, children whose families used food stamps were significantly more likely to be well than kids in low-income families that didn’t participate, Children’s HealthWatch found. About half of food stamp recipients are children, and 10 percent are elderly

How much would be cut from the food-stamp program ranges from $400 million a year in a Senate-passed farm bill to $4 billion a year in the House version. Congressional negotiators now are eyeing about $800 million a year in cuts.

That would be on top of cuts in November, when that 2009 temporary benefit expired. According to the Agriculture Department, a family of four receiving food stamps is now getting $36 less a month. The average household benefit is around $270.

Since then, food banks are reporting more demand because people’s food stamps aren’t stretching as far, said Maura Daly of Feeding America.

Conservatives pushing the cuts say they want to target benefits to the neediest people, arguing that those who are truly hungry should have no problem getting assistance if they apply.

The final bill will most likely crack down on states that give recipients $1 in heating assistance in order to trigger higher food stamp benefits. Republicans say anyone who truly qualifies for a higher benefit still can get it through SNAP.

The bill also may test new work requirements for recipients in a few states, a priority for many Republicans.

“While this program is an important part of our safety net, our overriding goal should be to help our citizens with the education and skills they need to get back on their feet so that they can provide for themselves and their families,” said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., when the farm bill was on the House floor last summer.

Democrats and anti-hunger groups opposing the reductions have said that cutting food stamps could worsen health and raise health costs for the poorest.

“Food is medicine,” says Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, who has led the Democrats’ defense of the food stamp program. “Critics focus almost exclusively on how much we spend, and I wish they understood that if we did this better, we could save a lot more money in health care costs.”

Dr. Thomas McInerny, past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said too often, poor families buy cheap, high-calorie junk food because it’s filling, but it lacks nutrients needed for proper child development. The two main consequences are later-in-life diabetes, and iron deficiency that, especially in the first three years of life, can damage a developing brain so that children have trouble learning in school, he said.

“The children may not look malnourished the way children in Third World countries look, but they are malnourished,” he said.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • W.Va. man arrested after child found in hot car

    A Wheeling man faces charges that he left his 18-month-old daughter in a hot car while he was asleep on a couch.

    July 29, 2014

  • Board to meet on dangerous animals list

    CHARLESTON (AP) — A board tasked with compiling a list of animals that are illegal to keep as pets in West Virginia will consider one that’s shorter than a list suggested earlier.

    July 28, 2014

  • Clinton impeachment shadows GOP lawsuit against Obama

    The last time Republicans unleashed impeachment proceedings against a Democratic president, they lost five House seats in an election they seemed primed to win handily.

    July 28, 2014

  • Study: Fist bumps less germy than handshakes

    When it comes to preventing the spread of germs, maybe the president is on to something with his fondness for fist bumps.

    July 28, 2014

  • Obama Exporting Pollu_time.jpg ‘Not in my backyard’: U.S. sending dirty coal abroad

    As  the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America’s unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution.
    This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine President Barack Obama’s strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change and reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem. The contribution of this exported pollution to global warming is not something the administration wants to measure, or even talk about.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • U.S.: Russia fired rockets into Ukraine

    Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists has crossed the border.
    The images, which came from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, show blast marks where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 — after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

    July 28, 2014

  • Plan to simplify health renewals may backfire

    If you have health insurance on your job, you probably don’t give much thought to each year’s renewal. But make the same assumption in one of the new health law plans, and it could lead to costly surprises.
    Insurance exchange customers who opt for convenience by automatically renewing their coverage for 2015 are likely to receive dated and inaccurate financial aid amounts from the government, say industry officials, advocates and other experts.
    If those amounts are too low, consumers could get sticker shock over their new premiums. Too high, and they’ll owe the tax man later.

    July 28, 2014

  • W.Va. Judge: WVU, IMG College deal is OK

    A judge has denied a motion by West Virginia Radio Corp. to toss the media rights contract between West Virginia University and IMG College.
    Media outlets report Monongalia County business court circuit judge Thomas Evans set aside a motion for summary judgment against WVU and others.
    West Virginia Radio was seeking to void any contract entered by WVU and IMG. West Virginia Radio unsuccessfully bid on the contract, then filed a motion for summary judgment in February, claiming school officials violated state procurement laws.
    Evans ruled the code cited by the plaintiffs didn’t apply to the $86.5 million, 12-year agreement reached last year.

    July 28, 2014

  • Powerful storms rip through eastern U.S.

    Powerful storms raking across several states in the eastern U.S. on Sunday have destroyed at least 10 homes in Tennessee, and there were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries, authorities said.

    July 27, 2014

  • Lawmakers say Obama too aloof with Congress

    President Barack Obama’s request for billions of dollars to deal with migrant children streaming across the border set off Democrats and Republicans. Lawmakers in both parties complained that the White House — six years in — still doesn’t get it when it comes to working with Congress.

    July 27, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads