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Government Medicine The Almighty Buck

Doctors Say Food Stamp Cuts Could Cause Higher Healthcare Costs 1043

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Lauran Neergaard writes at the Christian Science Monitor that doctors are warning that if Congress cuts food stamps, the federal government could be socked with bigger health bills because over time the poor wind up seeking treatment in doctors' offices or hospitals as a result. 'If you're interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,' says Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children's HealthWatch pediatric research institute. 'People don't make the hunger-health connection.' Food stamps feed 1 in 7 Americans and cost almost $80 billion a year, twice what it cost five years ago. 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. Conservatives say the program spiraled out of control as the economy struggled and the costs are not sustainable. However 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 (PDF) for 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. 'Food is medicine,' says Massachusetts Representative 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.'"
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Doctors Say Food Stamp Cuts Could Cause Higher Healthcare Costs

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  • Math, do it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Sunday January 12, 2014 @07:56PM (#45934651)

    a cut of $2 billion a year in food stamps could trigger in an increase of $15 billion in medical costs for over the next decade

    $2 billion/year x 10 years = $20 billion > $15 billion

    • Re:Math, do it. (Score:4, Informative)

      by danlip ( 737336 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:01PM (#45934669)

      And can I say that the way the editors set the link break in the summary made it very easy to miss the "over the next decade" part or that sentence.

    • Re:Math, do it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by starworks5 ( 139327 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:04PM (#45934685) Homepage

      That is only one of the costs, there may be other costs as well, like productivity losses from the illneess, or generally less productivity from less efficient division of labor.

    • Re:Math, do it. (Score:5, Informative)

      by jamie ( 78724 ) * Works for Slashdot <jamie@slashdot.org> on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:07PM (#45934711) Journal

      As the linked article points out, that $15 billion is a simple correlation based on diabetes alone.

      When cost savings are almost erased by one disease, maybe someone hasn't thought through the unintended consequences.

    • Re:Math, do it. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:09PM (#45934719)

      Unfortunately the summary does a crappy job of summarizing.

      The $15 billion increase in medical care that was extrapolated is for one disease (diabetes) alone. Presumably there will be others as well.

    • by Two99Point80 ( 542678 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:11PM (#45934729) Homepage
      From the linked PDF: "Thus, diabetes costs alone could nearly equal CBO’s estimate of $20 billion in savings over 10 years from implementing proposed SNAP changes in H.R.1947, in addition to any costs associated with other diseases."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Notabadguy ( 961343 )

      Not only does our government not have the money to fund all those foodstamps, it doesn't have the funds to absorb the cost of additional health care either.

      Conservatives and Liberals have different spending agendas, but they both want to spend, spend spend. We have no MONEY to spend.

    • by deanklear ( 2529024 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:36PM (#45934863)

      You also need to count:

      1) Lost worker productivity costs to the economy (most of these people have jobs)
      2) Increased welfare costs (these new sick people are the age of parents and caretakers)
      3) Increased long term health care costs (these sick people will not disappear in 10 years)

      The costs of creating a huge underclass has serious economic implications. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that the kids they have trouble teaching are the ones who don't get enough food to eat, and those who don't live in safe neighborhoods. You know, the ones you're too afraid of driving through.

      The fact that there are hungry children in this country should make you feel ashamed about gleefully cutting programs that feed the poor. And you don't even have the math partially right, nor do you seem understand the basic economic facts that operate in all known current economic theory (and common sense): taking care of a population's health (including nutrition) through a public service is much cheaper for societies than only guaranteeing emergency services, unless we start euthanizing the poor in hospital parking lots. That's how two dozen other countries provide 100% coverage for at least half the cost per capita with similar health outcomes.

      These new puppet conservatives do not have common sense or common decency, and further, they lack a prime signifier of adulthood: the ability to put the needs of others above their own wants. Why you would want to support them in their quest to keep tax cuts for people who don't need them while gutting basic services to the next generation of Americans is quite mysterious, unless being a parasite of the aristocratic class is something that appeals to you.

      And let's face it, that's all the Republican party is. As proof of this fact, name one Republican policy that benefits the poor to the detriment of the rich. Just one.

      Christ may have died for the poor, but the GOP fights for the wealthy. It's an odd reality for the party of God, isn't it?

      • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @09:39PM (#45935329)

        And let's face it, that's all the Republican party is. As proof of this fact, name one Republican policy that benefits the poor to the detriment of the rich. Just one.

        Christ may have died for the poor, but the GOP fights for the wealthy. It's an odd reality for the party of God, isn't it?

        Not odd at all. It is by design; clever and obscenely cynical, but definitely by design that the GOP has managed to hook voters with meaningless "social issues" and convince them to vote, over and over, against their own (the voters') best interests. That strategy is starting to run out of gas now, as younger voters, who appreciate a woman's right to choose and don't really give a rat's ass about gay marriage, are tilting the balance. Still, this brilliant play has worked extremely well for decades.

      • If we did nothing as a society except include breakfast at every school, we would be doing an incredible long term service to the brain wealth of the nation as a whole.

  • first whine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anagama ( 611277 ) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Sunday January 12, 2014 @07:56PM (#45934653) Homepage

    I'm pretty tolerant of articles for slashdot, but this seems really far off subject.

  • by MitchDev ( 2526834 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:04PM (#45934681)

    ...from a "Dollar amount" to specifics foods or types of food. No $$$, just "Bag of apples/fruit", "Vegetables", "Loaf of Bread", "Milk", "Orange/Apple Juice", etc.

    Perhaps have specific Food Stamp distribution centers instead of just about any old store accepting them. Take out the choice and lower the direct fraud (once they get the food from the program, there's not much you can do to stop them selling it if they choose, unless we just set up meal kitchens instead of food stamp, although that has it's appeal as well.)

    • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:33PM (#45934853)

      Take out the choice

      The department of Agriculture, which runs the Food Stamp Program, is tasked by law to make sure there is enough food for everyone and that everyone gets fed. Food stamps were born by order of the Supreme Court, not Congress.

      I'm pretty sure you won't find much support for having DOA nannies standing at every dinner table to make sure everyone on food stamps eats their collard greens. I'm positive you would accomplish nothing with this approach.

      There is no way you can supply food support while at the same time make sure that no budget shifting takes place. They money that might have gone for what people get for free on food stamps will be directed to other foods. Or what-ever. Food stamps were not intended to fix stupid. Just Hungry. You ALREADY can't buy beer on food stamps, stop trying to micromanage the program you apparently know nothing about.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:06PM (#45934697)

    Growing up, I always thought that the goal of civilisation was to alleviate suffering.

    On economic grounds, it will cost net $500 million more per year (($2B x 10 - $15B) / 10) to keep people in adequate nutrition. By US budget standards, that's pissing in the ocean.

    On humanitarian grounds, there is no question that the money must be allocated.

    If society's job isn't to improve the lot of humanity, it has no purpose. If we look only at ourselves, we are no better than apes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:06PM (#45934701)

    Your multi-billion dollar business go under? Get a huge bailout from taxpayers.
    Have five kids with four different fathers? Taxpayers will cover your kids' entire upbringing.
    Your bank cause a market crash? Taxpayers are forced to cover your corruption.
    Stopped looking for work for a few years? Here's free food and housing courtesy of taxpayers.

    "Food stamps feed 1 in 7 Americans and cost almost $80 billion a year, twice what it cost five years ago".

    So we've doubled the amount of money we spend on food stamps and we have record numbers of Americans that rely on the government for their food. I wonder which way the vote. When you don't work and get your income from the government (who gets its money from taxpayers) then there is no incentive to look for work. Have some kids, collect some checks, and don't ever look for work. And with all the unemployment and record food stamp usage both parties are now talking about letting millions of illegal immigrants into this country and legalizing the ones that are already here.

    And of course cue the screaming. "Corporate welfare is worse than individual welfare". They are both a major drain on society. And individual welfare is now a record drain. There's no incentive to succeed anymore. There's no incentive for personal responsibility. You can have six kids out of wedlock and be rewarded by the state with free food and housing. This happens on such a massive scale that we lose billions annually creating a system that encourages broken homes, unwanted children, and bastard children with no future as productive citizens.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      There isn't any incentive to succeed when corporate America does everything it can to hold your wage down and ignore the fact that you spent your own money on the education that they are taking advantage of.

      And then you have those who legitimately *can't* work due to medical conditions. Not everyone is being a lazy ass. Getting the right wingers to admit this is like pulling teeth tho. I hope to god that someday they are completely unable to care for themselves.

      Has it occurred to you that this country is ru

    • by PlusFiveTroll ( 754249 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @09:27PM (#45935243) Homepage

      >So we've doubled the amount of money we spend on food stamps and we have record numbers of Americans that rely on the government for their food.

      Have you tried to reword that in the correct fashion?

      We have record numbers of Americans that rely on the government for their food and have doubled the amount of money we spend on food stamps.

      You also neglect that most of the people on food stamps ALSO HAVE A JOB.

      You also neglect that the average household size on foodstamps is 2 and only a very small percentage of foodstamps households are over 4.

      I'd go on debunking the rest of your 'talking points', but I'm not going to convince you of your ignorance on the matter, and you're not going to do any research to enlighten yourself on the matter.

  • by hedgemage ( 934558 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:13PM (#45934737)
    I currently get food stamps and they provide the entirety of my food budget. I am well educated and know my way around a kitchen so I can keep myself fit and healthy for well under the $187/month I get. But if I wanted, I could buy candy, coke, and chips and try and live off of that. If you are on food stamps you can NOT simply rely on prepackaged heat and serve meals - you'll either run out of money or not get the nutrition you need. You need to focus on the basics: beans, rice, lentils, fresh fruits and veggies, and only occasionally some raw chicken (forget your love affair with beef, its too expensive). In my view, the problem is with education rather than money. Teach people how to cook and what to cook and they'll be healthy. Barrage them with ads for canned raviolis and Doritos and you'll get people who think that cooking simply involves heating things up. The food stamp program needs to be revised so that you are prohibited from purchasing junk foods just like alcohol or cigarettes can't be bought. In addition to restricting crap foods, allow people to purchase things like vitamins, toothpaste, and toilet paper with their food stamps. Being on food stamps is not fun, but for many people it is not a choice (the elderly or disabled) so lets make the program actually work for the benefit of those who receive the money.
    • by x0ra ( 1249540 )
      This is pretty much the good old: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime".
    • I truly wish people would understand this.

      Pretty much, anything processed is going to be either high in salt, sugar or fats.

      I have no problems with food stamps, but I wish that you could only buy fruits, vegetables, grains and meat with them. Not only would people be healthier, but they would actually be saving money as well. Yes, believe it or not, healthy food cost less. Mainly, because YOU have to prepare it and cook it.

  • I'm somewhat shocked (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DiSKiLLeR ( 17651 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:13PM (#45934741) Homepage Journal

    I'm somewhat shocked that 1 in 7 american's is dependent on foodstamps to get by...

    • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @09:19PM (#45935189) Journal

      The average amount received by those "1 in 7" Americans is only $133. That's not enough to get by on. It's quite obvious that many people simply see SNAP as a viable source of "income", just like hunting for all the deductibles you can to reduce your tax rate.

      Back when I was in high school I worked at a grocery store (to save up for my first computer - I bought a used Amiga 1000 for $700 - ahh the good old days). This was around 20 years ago, back when food stamps were actual paper things just like physical money. They were a MAJOR pain in the butt for cashiers to deal with, because of all the rules involved. They had to be removed from the booklet by the cashier - if they were loose individual "bills" then they weren't to be accepted. Since they were all new, they stuck together like crazy and were slow and annoying to deal with. Since cashiers couldn't give back food stamps as change, you had to give back cash. However, you could only give back up to a very small amount in cash (I'm pretty sure it was less than $5). Thus the shopper had to try and guesstimate, based on the denominations they had, what food to get to come within $5 of the increment they could buy (again, based on what specific denominations they had remaining in their booklets). In other words, it was extremely obvious to everyone around, including all the people in line behind you, that you were using food stamps because of the tedious and slow payment process.

      Part of the reason they were a logistical pain in the butt is because they were intended as a supplement - you're getting $65 in groceries? Slap down a couple food stamp twenties and then pay the rest in cash. However people wouldn't use them that way - most would try and make their entire purchase in food stamps.

      Now, it's just a card you swipe like any other, and I don't guess the cashier even knows you used an EBT card instead of a debit card. So I think since the stigma of using food stamps is now virtually gone (by simple fact that you can use them stealthily), many Americans see them as a perk or entitlement that they need to make use of, again, almost like trying to reduce their income tax by saving receipts for deductibles, etc.

    • by ewieling ( 90662 )
      A significant number of those 1 in 7 Americans on foodstamps have a job. Even with a full time job they cannot afford to feed their family.

      According to Feeding America "76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits." According to the USDA, "Over 30 percent of SNAP households had earnings in 2011, and 41 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings."
  • by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:14PM (#45934743) Homepage

    You're telling me that the people who use food stamps spend it on healthy items like fruit or oatmeal? The only thing I ever see people using EBT cards for is buying carts of TV dinners and bottles of pop. Add some potato chips and hotdogs to round it out. EBT should only work on certain items like WIC does.

    • That probably had more to do with where you are shopping than you know. Try shopping at a 'supermarket' in a lower income area. See how your choices change from fresh produce and quality protein to frozen everything and variations of junk food.

  • Oh, please (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jiro ( 131519 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @08:18PM (#45934765)

    Almost any political position is believed by its followers to be something that affects people's lives, and thus can be spun as affecting health care costs. It's just as easy to do it for the other side. Just take the standard political argument and tack on "so it affects health care costs". For instance, conservatives say that the costs hurt the economy. Well, in a worse economy, people have more health care problems (for hopefully obvious reasons). So food stamps increase health care costs because although they provide food (reducing health care costs), they also harm the economy by a marginal amount (increasing health care costs). If the latter effect is larger, then food stamps are a health care disaster.

    And it's unlikely that the study which claimed that cutting food stamps increases health care costs by 15 billion took into account the possibility that paying for food stamps hurts the economy and health care costs are larger in a worse economy.

    I can claim that gun control decreases health care costs (because it reduces gun violence and victims of violence use hospitals--this has been claimed for real). I could on the other hand claim that looser gun laws decrease health care costs (because people can use guns to protect themselves from criminals and people hurt by criminals use hospitals). Maybe we need stronger drug laws (stoned people don't take care of themselves very well) or weaker drug laws (the drug war sends people to prison where health is bad and they can't earn a living when they get out since they have an arrest record, making them poor, and so more likely to have high health care costs).

    How about arguing that censoring video games reduces health care costs? (fewer teens will become criminals if you censor games; less crime means fewer people sent to hospitals by criminals). It's all about disguising a political position as a nonpartisan one, not about health care.

  • ... is to do away with the program completely.

    First of all, it is flat-out wrong to suggest that one person is not allowed to have an opinion about how another person spends their food stamps. The fact the the stamps come from tax money means EVERY tax payer has paid for the right to have an opinion about it. See also: subsidized health care, and how it makes everyones lifestyle everyones business (I propose all dangerous, injury-causing leisure time activities now be banned for that reason, and I will decide what is "dangerous").

    Secondly, I disagree with the notion that just food is cheaper at a grocery store than healthy items, and that it isn't fair to expect poor people to eat rice every day. I am the procurer of provisions in my household of 3, so I have direct experience. "Staples" are refreshed, and used up, every month. To suggest I am being forced to supplement our meals with ten pounds of rice and a bag of potatoes every month is ludicrous, it is just intelligent home economics. Many hours of my free time are also spent in gardening every summer, and tomatoes and onions from that garden are eaten year round after I can it up, an inexpensive technology that has existed in its current form for a couple hundred years, at least.

    The only way to fix the problem of "spending their food stamps on steak and lobster and junk food" is just to remove that choice completely. If someone is poor enough for food stamps, then we consult the Official US Government Dietary Needs table for the person at that sex at that age, and they get a box every 2 weeks with exactly the nutritious food they need, at the appropriate calorie level for their age, with enough snack cakes for small dessert every evening. This makes the fiscal conservatives happy... less money is being wasted. This also eliminates the ignorance of a person not knowing which foods are nutritious, and then the government can also even out the production of agricultural products and possibly remove the need for farm subsidies. If the government KNOWS it is going to need X amount of bread each month, then it can more intelligently utilize the nations bread producers. This makes the central-government socialists happy.

    Really, it's win/win/win. If the person on the dole still wants a lobster once a month, no one will stop them, they can use their allotment of cigarette money for that week.
  • by faedle ( 114018 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:26PM (#45935663) Homepage Journal

    Let me make sure I understand this.

    Congress is waging war over $2 billion in budget cuts. In a budget that is around $3 trillion. The deficit alone is $680 billion.

    Let's frame this in context. This is arguing over a 2 cent line item on a $300 bill.

    And we wonder why our government is the laughing stock of the free world.

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson