Study: Expanding Medicaid aids health access

Poor adults in two states that expanded Medicaid saw much bigger improvements in access to health care than their peers in Texas, which didn’t expand the government insurance program, a new study says.

The research, supported by the Commonwealth Fund and published Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs, shows that the uninsured rate dropped 14 percentage points more in Kentucky and Arkansas than in Texas. Kentucky expanded its program as called for under the Affordable Care Act, while Arkansas expanded its program through a federal waiver allowing people to use Medicaid funds to buy private insurance.

“The big message we found is an expansion — any expansion — makes a big difference compared with no expansion,” says lead author Benjamin Sommers, an assistant professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Sommers and his colleagues surveyed two groups of low-income adults in the three states — 5,665 people altogether — in November and December 2013 and again 12 months later, the first full year after Medicaid expansion. In Kentucky and Arkansas, the share of people skipping medical care because of cost declined significantly, while the share of those with chronic conditions who got regular care went up.

The share of people who had trouble paying medical bills declined in both states, but more so in Kentucky than in Arkansas. Otherwise, the study says, “there were no significant differences between Kentucky’s traditional Medicaid expansion and Arkansas’ private option, which suggests that both approaches improved access among low-income adults.”

Both expansions — like those in the other 28 states that have chosen to expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA — extend benefits to people earning up to Medicaid 138% of the poverty level, or around $16,000 a year for an individual.

Read full story at USA TODAY

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