June 24, 2019
OMB is proposing to use an alternative, lower measure of inflation than the traditional Consumer Price Index (CPI) to adjust the income thresholds connected to the poverty guidelines. In response to OMB's request for public comment on the proposed action, Altarum submitted a letter encouraging OMB to examine alternative approaches to improving the Official Poverty Measure that will more accurately measure the number of Americans in need of basic services and supports that are critical to better health and economic outcomes.
Authored by Joanne Lynn, MD, director of Altarum's Program to Improve Eldercare, and Lynn Quincy, MA, director of Altarum's Healthcare Value Hub, the letter states that the government's current method of calculating the poverty guidelines is flawed in that it does not account for variation in the cost of living around the country, with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska. As such, it undercounts in high-cost areas the proportion of the population with income able to cover basic needs—the basic definition of poverty thresholds used by the federal government.
If the OMB adopts its proposed approach, Altarum warns that even more families would miss the income-eligibility cutoffs for critical safety net programs including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Head Start, among others. This would represent a step back in ensuring better health and economic outcomes among the most vulnerable in society.