The Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion: A difference-in-differences study of spillover participation in SNAP

PLoS One. 2022 May 4;17(5):e0267244. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0267244. eCollection 2022.


The Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion to individuals with adults under 138 percent of the federal poverty level led to insurance coverage for millions of Americans in participating states. This study investigates Medicaid expansion's potential spillover participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly the Food Stamp Program). In addition to providing public insurance, the policy connects individuals to SNAP, affecting social determinants of health such as hunger. We use difference-in-differences regression to estimate the effect of the Medicaid expansion on SNAP participation among approximately 414,000 individuals from across the United States. The Current Population Survey is used to answer the main research question, and the SNAP Quality Control Database allows for supplemental analyses. Medicaid expansion produces a 2.9 percentage point increase (p = 0.002) in SNAP participation among individuals under 138 percent of federal poverty. Subgroup analyses find a larger 5.0 percentage point increase (p = 0.002) in households under 75 percent of federal poverty without children. Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) are a category of individuals with limited access to SNAP. Although they are a subset of adults without children, we found no spillover effect for ABAWDs. We find an increase in SNAP households with $0 income, supporting the finding that spillover was strongest for very-low-income individuals. Joint processing of Medicaid and SNAP applications helps facilitate the connection between Medicaid expansion and SNAP. Our findings contribute to a growing body of evidence that Medicaid expansion does more than improve access to health care by connecting eligible individuals to supports like SNAP. SNAP recipients have increased access to food, an important social determinant of health. Our study supports reducing administrative burdens to help connect individuals to safety net programs. Finally, we note that ABAWDs are a vulnerable group that need targeted program outreach.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Food Assistance*
  • Humans
  • Insurance Coverage
  • Medicaid
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act*
  • Poverty
  • United States