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An Avoidable $2.4 Billion Cost: Studying health-related costs of hunger and food insecurity in Massachusetts

An Avoidable $2.4 Billion Cost: Studying health-related costs of hunger and food insecurity in Massachusetts

February 21, 2018

Last week, The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) and Children’s HealthWatch released the first study of the health-related costs of hunger and food insecurity in Massachusetts. With one out of every 10 people in Massachusetts unable to afford enough food to lead an active, healthy life, An Avoidable $2.4 Billion Cost reveals exactly what its title says: the costs of debilitating health issues that are attributable to food insecurity are high…and avoidable.

The study breaks down the correlation between hunger and debilitating health issues that are attributable to food insecurity and presents the conditions – and their costs—in seven main categories:

  • Poor General Health: $635.4 million
  • Pulmonary Diseases: $572.6 million
  • Special Education: $520.3 million
  • Type 2 Diabetes: $251.1 million
  • Mental Health Conditions: $223.3 million
  • Obesity: $132.7 million
  • Rheumatology Diseases: $76.9 million

Hunger and food insecurity have particular and long-lasting ramifications for children—with negative effects that often persist through the lifespan. GBFB president and CEO Catherine D’Amato tells The Boston Globe: “If a child misses the right nutrition early on in their life…it can limit their potential to be an active citizen in their community. That damage is done.”

GBFB and Children’s HealthWatch encourage leaders in the health care community to join forces with policymakers at both the state and federal levels to reduce food insecurity, improve the health of food-insecure Massachusetts residents and reduce healthcare costs for individuals, families and the Commonwealth. Specific policy recommendations include:

  • Healthcare providers should screen patients routinely for food insecurity.
  • Congress should maintain the current funding levels and structure of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Funding of the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program, which helps the state’s food banks serve the 700,000 food-insecure people in our state, should be increased to $20 million in FY19
  • Massachusetts should implement a common application for MassHealth and SNAP.
  • Massachusetts high-poverty schools should institute breakfast after the bell programs.

 As a consumer advocacy organization, Health Care For All (HCFA) knows that social determinants of health—factors such as lack of affordable housing, food insecurity, transportation barriers, limited access to well-paying jobs, and exposure to violence—contribute to poor health outcomes, drive up health care costs, and create health inequities across race and income. HCFA believes that addressing the social determinants of health (SDOH)—including hunger and food insecurity—is a critical component of our mission to create a health care system that provides comprehensive, affordable, accessible, and culturally competent care to everyone in Massachusetts—especially the most vulnerable among us.

The new MassHealth Accountable Care Organization (ACO) program provides an opportunity to begin to address some of the SDOH needs of MassHealth members. HCFA will be monitoring how these new ACOs use “flexible funds” to address social service needs, and we hope to learn more about the SDOH needs of the ACO member populations and the impacts of these interventions over time as the ACO program rolls out.

-Natalie Litton