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Medicaid Beneficiaries Face Significant Food Insecurity Challenges

New research has found that Medicaid beneficiaries face significant food insecurity challenges that can impact their overall health.

Medicaid members face high rates of food insecurity.

Source: Thinkstock

By Thomas Beaton

- Medicaid beneficiaries face significant food insecurity challenges and may require additional healthcare programs to reduce food insecurity risks, according to new research from the Root Cause Coalition.

Many Medicaid beneficiaries struggle to afford and purchase healthy food options. The survey found that one-third of Medicaid beneficiaries purchase less healthy food because of financial issues, compared to only 13 percent of commercially-insured members.

Medicaid beneficiaries also struggle to purchase food in general, and experience more financial challenges than private insurance beneficiaries when it comes to securing adequate meals, according to the research.

Twenty-eight percent of Medicaid beneficiaries purchase less food than they need because of money issues, while only 10 percent of non-Medicaid members have similar challenges. In addition, 43 percent of Medicaid members say they often skip at least one meal a day, which is far more than the 28 percent of commercial members that also skip meals.

However, Medicaid beneficiaries are motivated to maintain healthy diets and eating habits in order to improve their overall health.

Seventeen percent of Medicaid members said they want to improve their nutritional habits to improve cardiovascular health and 15 percent said they want to lose weight by improving their diet.

“While Medicaid is a vital lifeline for one in five Americans, tens of millions still face precarious food choices and conditions that exacerbate the health gap between those with fewer means and the rest of the population,” said Joseph Clayton, CEO of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, who co-sponsored the study.

 “We’re grateful to The Root Cause Coalition for helping uncover these realities, as well as the pressing need to address them.”

Promoting education and guidance on healthy eating habits for Medicaid members may improve dietary decisions among members, the survey found.

Currently, 59 percent of Medicaid members receive nutritional guidance from their doctor. After receiving provider guidance, 79 percent of Medicaid members made changes to their eating habits.

However, there is still room for improvement. Only 32 percent of all Medicaid members said they can name a food or nutrient that contributes to their most pressing health concern.

Medicaid members may also need integrated dietary and healthcare support systems since nutrition-related healthcare conditions are more prevalent in Medicaid populations than privately-insured groups.

Sixty-six percent of Medicaid members are obese compared to 60 percent of privately-insured beneficiaries. Twenty-eight percent of Medicaid members have high blood pressure compared to 25 percent of non-Medicaid members.

Commercially insured members also rate their overall health as “excellent” more frequently than Medicaid members, the coalition found. Only 38 percent of Medicaid members rated their health as “excellent” compared to 58 percent of commercially insured members.

The acts of purchasing food and grocery shopping also create additional stressors for Medicaid members, the survey said.

Thirty-four percent of Medicaid members said they experience stress when shopping for food and beverages and 67 percent said that the price of food is a major reason for food-related stress.

Recently, healthcare payers have implemented programs to subsidize healthy meals and food options to lower beneficiaries risk of developing worsened overall health. Payers are starting to recognize the clinical importance of healthy food in preventing chronic conditions and understand that food insecurity is an important social determinant of health.

For Medicaid members, addressing food insecurity may be particularly impactful on long-term outcomes.

“The Root Cause Coalition is proud to add the results of this survey to our body of knowledge about the broader Medicaid population and the challenges it faces,” said Barbara Petee, Executive Director of The Root Cause Coalition.

“Working in collaboration with our estimable partners at the IFIC Foundation has enabled us to shine an even brighter light on the need for cross-sector collaborations to fight food insecurity and promote healthy nutrition.”

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