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Expanding Access to Medicaid Would Save Lives: Study
Date:7/25/2012

WEDNESDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) -- On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal mandate to expand Medicaid as unconstitutional, but a new study suggests that widening access to the program would save lives.

The study, published online July 25 in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at outcomes for three states that have already expanded access to the joint federal-state program, which helps many low-income people pay for health services.

According to the study authors, Arizona, Maine and New York each "substantially expanded adult Medicaid eligibility" before 2000 to include childless, poor adults, much as the 2010 Affordable Care Act seeks to do.

The researchers tracked state death statistics, levels of delays of medical care linked to a lack of insurance and residents' self-reported health during the five years before and after the expansion of the states' Medicaid programs.

They compared those numbers to rates from four neighboring states (Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania) that had not undertaken the same expansion of Medicaid for adults.

Overall, data on more than 429,000 people was included in the analysis.

Researchers led by Dr. Benjamin Sommers, assistant professor of health policy and economics at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, found that expansion benefitted state residents.

"State Medicaid expansions to cover low-income adults were significantly associated with reduced mortality, as well as improved coverage, access to care and self-reported health," they concluded.

Specifically, death rates fell by about 6 percent in states that expanded access to Medicaid, with older adults, nonwhites and the poor most likely to benefit. An extra 2.2 percent of the states' population gained access to health insurance, and nearly 3 percent saw reductions in delays for medical care linked to cost.

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