Application process for public benefits programs to address food insecurity and other needs
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — Keystone First Community HealthChoices – a Blue Cross Medical Assistance (Medicaid) plan for Community HealthChoices participants in southeastern Pennsylvania – is working with Benefits Data Trust (BDT), a national non-profit organization, on a special initiative to help Community HealthChoices participants apply for financial assistance to pay for nutritious food that can improve health.
Philadelphia-based BDT leverages data and technology to help eligible people access essential benefits and services, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). BDT will help address food insecurity and other social determinants of health for the health plan’s participants in Pennsylvania’s Community HealthChoices program.
Community HealthChoices serves Pennsylvanians ages 21 and older who are eligible for Medicaid and Medicare or qualify to receive Long-Term Services and Supports.
SNAP participation in older adults has been linked to reductions in emergency department visits and hospital and nursing home admissions, leading to $2,360 in Medicaid savings per person per year, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine.
BDT will reach out to Community HealthChoices participants who are likely eligible for public assistance, inviting them to call the Pennsylvania Benefits Center, operated by BDT. Specialists at the Pennsylvania Benefits Center will assist participants over the phone to screen them for eligibility for up to 19 public benefit programs. The BDT specialists submit applications and referrals on behalf of the plan participants, streamlining their experience by connecting them to multiple public benefit programs simultaneously.
BDT specialists are also equipped to help plan participants identify deductions and expenses that enable households to access the most accurate maximum SNAP benefit for which they are eligible.
John Koehn, vice president of the Medicaid managed care organization’s Community HealthChoices program, said plan participants have significant care needs due to a high prevalence of chronic conditions and disabilities, which often include special diets and nutritional requirements that frequently go unattended due to costs. Koehn said the impact of social determinants on health outcomes encouraged Keystone First to consider a new approach to connecting people to much-needed resources, like SNAP.
“Because the income eligibility requirements for Medicaid and SNAP are comparable, we know that a higher percentage of our Community HealthChoices participants could be receiving SNAP and other benefits,” he said.
In addition to SNAP, BDT specialists will assist people in accessing the Senior Food Box Program, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Heating Assistance (LIHEAP) in the fall and winter months, Property Tax/Rent Rebate (PTRR), Child Care Works subsidized childcare program, and other programs.
“Inflation has increased the cost of not only food, but also rent, heating and transportation. All of this can limit access to healthy food for many Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries,” Koehn said. “Connecting our Community HealthChoices participants with resources to help them afford healthy food is key to achieving positive health outcomes.”
The new initiative builds on a collaboration that began in November with Keystone First Community HealthChoices two sister HealthChoices Medicaid health plans. “Health plan providers can play a key role in helping people connect to other assistance programs that can have enormous impact on their overall health and well-being,” said Trooper Sanders, CEO of Benefits Data Trust. “We are proud to evolve our work with Keystone First [Community HealthChoices] to incorporate new methods of outreach and application assistance, so we can help more of their eligible participants access resources for nutrition and other necessities.”