Policies that promote income security focus on encouraging work and providing access to basic needs, like food, health care and housing. For most people, assistance provided by income and work support programs is temporary—needed only for a short time to overcome an unexpected job loss, a medical crisis, or some other significant life event. Most research has focused on the employment, education and poverty effects of these government programs. Recent research has documented the health benefits of income and work supports.
Central to healthy communities is affordable health care coverage and access to services. Colorado has made tremendous gains in health care coverage rates. The historic drop in the percentage of Coloradans without health insurance is due in large part to expanded Medicaid eligibility.
Colorado expanded Medicaid to all people at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Medicaid enrollment more than doubled between 2009 and 2015. Recent research has concluded that Medicaid expansion states are experiencing a range of healthier outcomes compared to non-expansion states. Benefits of expanded access to Medicaid for low-income people include increased use of preventative care, reduced emergency room visits and improved self-reported health.
Despite the dramatic drop in the uninsured rate, Latinos still have the highest uninsured rate in the state—more than double that of White Coloradans. And looking across our vast and diverse geography, much of the Western Slope still has high rates of people without insurance.
Fig. 12. Dramatic drop in uninsured Coloradans but Latinos still have high uninsured rate
Source: Colorado Health Access Survey
Food assistance available through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides eligible families with a monthly stipend to purchase food, averaging about $1.40 per person, per meal. Most recipients are children, seniors, working adults, veterans and those who are disabled.
A growing body of research shows the importance of SNAP benefits in improving short and long-term health outcomes, lowering health care costs, promoting work and economic stability, enhancing academic performance and early childhood education outcomes, helping seniors maintain their independence, and boosting economic development, such as grocery sales.
Expanding access to food assistance could be beneficial to health in Colorado. An estimated 57 percent of the eligible population is enrolled in food assistance in Colorado, well below the national enrollment average of 75 percent of the eligible population. Underenrollment in this program also means that local communities are losing nearly $690 million in annual grocery sales.
Initiatives that provide an income boost to low-income families—such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit—also have documented health benefits, particularly for children. The EITC has been linked to improved infant and maternal health through reducing the likelihood of babies being born at low birth weight, which can result in costly health complications. In 2014, nearly 380,000 Coloradans received the EITC, putting another $810 million in federal EITC funds in the pockets of low-income families.
Research also suggests that Social Security benefits have contributed to increasing the life span of people age 65 and older and that Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a cash transfer program for low-income elderly people, reduced disability rates.