Evidence that Medicaid Expansion Makes Americans Healthier: Washington Post

More than 72 million American families and kids rely on Medicaid – and more than 17 million of them have access to the program thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Now, there’s evidence that not only do more Americans have health care coverage, but they’re healthier as a result, reports the Washington Post. Despite the specter of Texas v. US, which threatens to dismantle the entire law, evidence grows that the ACA has saved lives.

Thanks to Medicaid expansion,  “Poor people in Michigan with asthma and diabetes were admitted to hospitals less often after they joined Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. More than 25,000 Ohio smokers got help through the state’s Medicaid expansion that led them to quit. And around the country, patients with advanced kidney disease who went on dialysis were more likely to be alive a year later if they lived in a Medicaid-expansion state.”

It’s easier to study the impact of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision than other sections of the law, partly because there’s a clear line to be drawn between states that have expanded and those that haven’t. In Michigan, researchers have been doing just that as they evaluate the Healthy Michigan Plan, the state’s expansion program, which covers approximately 650,000 people.

So far, the University of Michigan found:

  • 4 in 10 Healthy Michigan enrollees with a chronic health condition – such as high blood pressure, a mood disorder, or chronic lung disease – only found out after gaining coverage
  • One in three Michigan women with Medicaid said they could more easily access birth control after joining the program
  • Uninsured or Medicaid-covered patients who had cardiac bypasses or valve operations in Michigan had fewer complications afterward than similar people in Virginia, where more were uninsured. (At the time of this study in 2017, Virginia had not yet expanded Medicaid).

The piece goes on to highlight patient success stories, including Bonnie Sparks, who was unable to pay for her heart medicine after she lost her job and was living on unemployment. Doctors told her she shouldn’t work, but she was denied twice for Medicaid – until the Healthy Michigan Plan began under Medicaid expansion. Since she gained coverage, Bonnie has lost weight, accessed the care she needs to stay healthy, and the program even contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover her medical debt.

Another Healthy Michigan success story is David Brown, who – like Bonnie – was laid off and unable to access regular primary care. He waited until his symptoms were so bad he had to go to the emergency room, where he learned he might be borderline diabetic. In fact, his diabetes was out-of-control for years, with his kidneys, heart, and eyes already damaged. But thanks to his health coverage, David now has access to doctors to help manage his health conditions. He also lost 125 pounds and was able to get his blood sugar under control.

Earlier this year, a study found that Medicaid expansion across the country could have saved tens of thousands of lives. There’s still a lot of research to be done, but a growing body of evidence is starting to paint a picture of Medicaid’s value. As John Ayanian, director of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, said, “the weight of evidence is on the positive side.”