The list of benefits that expanding Medicaid provides to both individuals and states just keeps on growing. A comprehensive review of studies of the impacts of Medicaid expansion have found dramatic differences in Medicaid expansion versus non-expansion states along factors such as access to and affordability of coverage, overall health and financial security. In addition, five new studies have come out over the past few months showing additional benefits beyond those that Medicaid enrollees and states have realized. In fact, the benefits of expanding Medicaid are so clear and significant that the issue is becoming a top motivator at the ballot box. During the 2017 elections last Tuesday, residents of Maine voted overwhelmingly to expand Medicaid through a ballot initiative, and exit polls in Virginia – where House members who had blocked Medicaid expansion under Governor McAuliffe lost their seats in a landslide shift – showed 39 percent of voters ranked health care as their number one issue.

Medicaid expansion increases access to care and improves health – and not just for those made newly eligible! 

One of the recent findings regarding the benefits of Medicaid expansion is that it improves overall access to care in addition to access to coverage, and improves health outcomes as a result. Several studies published this year have evaluated Medicaid expansion since its inception and found the following benefits:

  • Increased early cancer detections: A study from the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that states that expanded Medicaid saw a meaningful increase in cancer patients who were diagnosed in the early stages of development, allowing them to begin treatment when the disease was easier to treat.
  • Reduced smoking rates: A survey of residents of expansion states found that 8.1 percent of enrollees reported they had quit smoking in the prior year, compared with 6 percent of low-income adults in states without expansion.
  • Increased well-child visits: A report in Pediatrics found that children whose parents recently enrolled in Medicaid were 29 percent more likely to receive at least one well-child visit.

Medicaid expansion significantly reduces medical debt

Not only does Medicaid expansion help improve health outcomes for its enrollees, but it also improves their financial well-being and security. Researchers at the University of Minnesota who studied financial debt from 2012-15 found that in states that expanded Medicaid, the percentage of low-income adults with medical debt fell by almost half. For instance, states who expanded Medicaid had a 13 percent point decline in medical debt between 2012-2015, while those who did not only experienced a 7 percent reduction. Additionally, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Medicaid expansion significantly reduced the number of unpaid, non-medical bills and the amount of non-medical debt sent to third-party collection agencies, illustrating that gaining health insurance provides financial benefits beyond just eliminating medical debt. Overall, expansion reduced unpaid medical debt in its first two years by $3.4 billion.

These results can be added to the growing mountain of evidence that shows how expanding Medicaid improves access to coverage and care for individuals and families. Not only that, but expanding Medicaid has been shown to be an economic win for states, allowing them to draw down billions of federal dollars while reducing their own spending on providing care to the uninsured. In addition, safety net providers have seen a dramatic reduction in their uncompensated care costs, which has protected them from financial loss and allowed them tobetter serve their patients.

It is no surprise, then, that voters across the country are sending the message that it is time to expand Medicaid in states that have not done so. Now is the time for policymakers in non-expansion states to heed that message and do what is best for their state and its residents.