February 16, 2018
The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion has been linked to better access to surgery—and higher-quality surgical care, at that—according to findings of a study of 300,000 patients nationwide by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released online in the January 24 edition of JAMA Surgery.
“What was most striking was that we saw significant improvements in the treatment of surgical conditions fairly quickly, less than two years after states expanded Medicaid coverage,” said lead author Andrew Loehrer, who conducted the study as a research fellow at Harvard Chan School.
Previous studies have examined the impact of the expansion of Medicaid by the ACA (also known as Obamacare) on a range of outcomes in medical areas such as primary care, prescription medication use, and self-reported health— generally finding favorable results. But this is the first study showing similar benefits for serious conditions requiring surgery.
The researchers looked at five years’ worth of data from patients across 42 U.S. states who were admitted to hospitals for one of five common surgical conditions: appendicitis, cholecystitis, diverticulitis, peripheral artery disease (PAD), or aortic aneurysm. They analyzed trends in insurance coverage, timeliness of surgical care, and care outcomes—both before the ACA’s Medicaid expansion (2010-13) and after (2014-15)—comparing 27 states that chose to expand their Medicaid programs with 15 that chose not to expand.
The study found that Medicaid expansion was associated with:
- A 7.5-percentage-point decrease in the probability of patients being uninsured;
- An 8.6-percentage-point increased probability of patients having Medicaid;
- A 1.8-percentage-point increase in the probability of patients seeking care earlier, before their surgical conditions became complicated; and
- A 2.6-percentage-point increase in patients’ probability of receiving optimal care
They speculated that the ACA’s Medicaid expansion led patients with surgical conditions to seek treatment before complications set in. Being treated for these conditions earlier makes it more likely that they will have better health outcomes, the authors said.
“The fate of the ACA and Medicaid remain … a key policy debate,” said senior author Benjamin Sommers, associate professor of Health Policy and Economics at Harvard Chan School. “As policymakers continue to discuss major changes to the ACA, and the Trump administration advances reforms that could lead to fewer people covered by Medicaid, our findings provide important new evidence that Medicaid expansion is improving the quality of care for serious conditions affecting tens of thousands of Americans every year.”
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