CHICAGO – Improving access to preventive health care services, such as colorectal cancer screening, for the poor and uninsured has led to better health outcomes, shows a study presented on May 6 in Chicago at the annual Digestive Disease Week®.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, reported that states with expanded Medicaid coverage had significantly higher rates of colorectal cancer (CRC) screening than states where officials refused federal support for Medicaid expansion.
Led by Megan R. McLeod, MD, an internal medicine resident at the University of California, Los Angeles, researchers compared CRC screening rates in states that did not adopt Medicaid expansion in 2021 with screening rates in states that invested Medicaid expansion into 1,284 Federally Qualified Health Centers, which are nonprofit health centers or clinics that serve medically underserved areas and populations. In this study, 76% of these centers were in states that accepted Medicaid expansion. The median colorectal cancer screening rate was 42.1% in Medicaid expansion states, compared with 36.5% in nonexpansion states
“The impact of being uninsured on CRC screening participation was profound in nonexpansion states,” said Dr. McLeod, who will be a UCLA gastroenterology fellow this year.
The study adds to a growing body of evidence that shows Medicaid expansion, which increases access to health care services to previously uninsured or underinsured patients, can improve health outcomes and may reduce racial and economic disparities.
For example, a 2019 study based on electronic health record data presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology showed that, after Medicaid expansion, racial differences in timely cancer treatment effectively disappeared. Before Medicaid expansion, Black patients were 4.8% less likely than White patients to receive timely cancer treatment, which is defined as treatment starting within 30 days of the diagnosis of an advanced or metastatic solid tumor. After Medicaid expansion, however, the difference between the racial groups dwindled to 0.8% and was no longer statistically significant.
Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York reported in 2020 at the virtual annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases that, 1 year after Medicaid expansion began on Jan. 1, 2014, the rate of liver-related mortality began to decline in 18 states with expanded coverage, whereas the rate of liver-related deaths continued to climb in 14 states that did not expand Medicaid.
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration funds Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) that serve nearly 29 million patients throughout the country, including a large proportion whose care is covered by Medicaid. Among patients cared for in these centers, one in three have incomes below the federal poverty line, and one in five are uninsured.
Screening rates compared
Dr. McLeod and colleagues sought to determine whether Medicaid expansion would have an effect on CRC screening rates at these centers. The final analysis included 6,940,879 patients (between 50 and 74 years), of whom 1.7% were unhoused and 17.6% were uninsured.
Medicaid expansion status appeared to have a direct impact on whether screenings were even offered to patients. Centers in rural areas and those with a high proportion of uninsured patients were found to have significantly higher odds for doing fewer CRC screenings. In Medicaid expansion states, CRC screening rates were significantly lower for patients who were male, Black, Hispanic, had low income, were unhoused, or were uninsured.
In a Q&A that followed the presentation, Steven Itzkowitz, MD, director of the GI fellowship program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, suggested the type of CRC test patients are offered is directly related to Medicaid expansion status.
“In New York, before Cologuard (a colon and rectal cancer screening test) was covered by Medicaid, it wasn’t used very much, but once it got paid for by Medicaid, rates went up,” he said.
The study was internally supported. Dr. McLeod reported no conflicts of interest. Dr. Itzkowitz has been a consultant for Exact Sciences, the maker of Cologuard.
DDW is sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract.
This article originally appeared in GI and Hepatology News.
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