The benefits of good prenatal and infant care for a child’s development are well documented, so it makes sense that improving access to care by expanding Medicaid coverage to pregnant women and children would produce long-term gains. A new study suggests that as well.
University of Michigan researchers examined the health in young adulthood of people born during the 1980s and early 1990s, when states significantly expanded Medicaid to cover more low-income pregnant women and children in response to new federal requirements and added state flexibility. Building on a large body of research documenting the benefits of Medicaid, they found that people who were more likely to be eligible for Medicaid during their prenatal and infant stages had better health and fewer preventable hospitalizations as young adults than those who were less likely to be eligible for Medicaid.
Specifically, a ten-percentage-point increase in the share of women of childbearing age who were eligible for Medicaid was linked to the following positive outcomes for young adults (ages 19-33) born during the expansion:
lower body mass index and a 7 percent drop in the likelihood of obesity;
a nearly 2 percent decline in preventable hospitalizations overall and a 9 to 10 percent decline in preventable hospitalizations related to chronic conditions; and
an 8 to 10 percent drop in hospitalizations related to conditions that benefit from regular medical evaluations in early childhood, such as diabetes.
As noted, other studies have shown the health benefits of expanding Medicaid, but this study shows the link between Medicaid coverage and positive long-term health outcomes as well. It’s one more reason why states that haven’t yet adopted health reform’s Medicaid expansion should get off the sidelines.