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Medicaid Works: Expansion Improving Access to Care and Financial Well-Being

This is the next in our “Medicaid Works” blog series, which aims to inform the debate over Medicaid’s future by providing the latest facts and figures on this essential and popular part of the nation’s health care system.

While uninsured rates continued dropping across the country in 2015 — the second year since health reform’s Medicaid expansion took effect — they fell more in expansion states, new Census data show.  What’s more, a growing body of research shows that the Medicaid expansion is improving low-income people’s access to care and financial well-being.

Here are some examples:

  • Low-income adults in Arkansas and Kentucky, which have expanded Medicaid, are likelier to get regular medical care than those in Texas, which hasn’t expanded, one recent study found.  In addition, Arkansas and Kentucky residents find it easier to pay their medical bills, visit the emergency room less often, and are less likely to skip medications due to cost than similar adults in Texas.
  • More than 300,000 Louisianans have gotten Medicaid coverage since the state’s expansion took effect July 1, gaining access to needed — and, in some cases, potentially life-saving — health care.  For example, 24 women have begun treatment for breast cancer found during Medicaid-covered screenings, and hundreds of other new beneficiaries have begun receiving treatment for diabetes, state officials say.
  • Adults in Medicaid expansion states have fewer debts sent to third-party collection agencies than adults in similar non-expansion states, a National Bureau of Economic Research study found.  Medicaid enrollment reduced total non-medical debt in collection by an estimated $600 to $1,000 per person.  

Unfortunately, 19 states still haven’t expanded Medicaid, which has left millions of uninsured Americans without an option for affordable health coverage.  Some 89 percent of them live in the South, and 55 percent are people of color.  They also are more likely to have unmet health needs; for example, low-income uninsured people are more likely to have a mental illness or a substance use disorder.

The evidence clearly shows that Medicaid expansion improves access to care and financial security.  Looking ahead to state legislative sessions next year, the holdout states would be wise to reconsider their opposition.