IntroductionFood insecurity, or uncertain access to food because of limited financial resources, is associated with higher health care expenditures. However, both food insecurity prevalence and health care spending vary widely in the United States. To inform public policy, we estimated state-level and county-level health care expenditures associated with food insecurity.
MethodsWe used linked 2011-2013 National Health Interview Survey/Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data (NHIS/MEPS) data to estimate average health care costs associated with food insecurity, Map the Meal Gap data to estimate state-level and county-level food insecurity prevalence (current though 2016), and Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care data to account for local variation in health care prices and intensity of use. We used targeted maximum likelihood estimation to estimate health care costs associated with food insecurity, separately for adults and children, adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics.
ResultsAmong NHIS/MEPS participants, 10,054 adults and 3,871 children met inclusion criteria. Model estimates indicated that food insecure adults had annual health care expenditures that were $1,834 (95% confidence interval [CI], $1,073-$2,595, P < .001) higher than food secure adults. For children, estimates were $80 higher, but this finding was not significant (95% CI, -$171 to $329, P = .53). The median annual health care cost associated with food insecurity was $687,041,000 (25th percentile, $239,675,000; 75th percentile, $1,140,291,000). The median annual county-level health care cost associated with food insecurity was $4,433,000 (25th percentile, $1,774,000; 75th percentile, $11,267,000). Cost variability was related primarily to food insecurity prevalence.
ConclusionsHealth care expenditures associated with food insecurity vary substantially across states and counties. Food insecurity policies may be important mechanisms to contain health care expenditures.