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Medicaid Expansion Leads To Increase In Early Cancer Detection

Damian Devorganes
Radiologist Gerald Iba reads a mammogram at The Elizabeth Center for Cancer Detection in Los Angeles on May 6, 2010.

The rate of early cancer diagnosis was higher in some states that expanded Medicaid compared to other that did not.

A new study from University of Pittsburgh and Indiana University, published online last month by the American Journal of Public Health, found that states that expanded Medicaid increased cancer diagnoses by 6.4 percent more than ones that did not. Researchers compared data from 2014, the first year of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, to previous years to see if there was a significant increase in the diagnosis rate in states that extended the program in contrast to those that did not.

At 6.4 percent, an additional 13.8 people per 100,000 had an early diagnosis of cancer. Researchers found no change in late-stage diagnosis. 

The study’s senior author Lindsay Sabik, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health, said a couple factors might be driving these results. One could be simply that more patients are getting screened for cancer.

"But there’s also the possibility that people do have symptoms and they go to see their health care provider soon after the symptoms begin, instead of putting off care because of concerns of costs or an inability to get recommended treatment," she said. 

Because earlier diagnosis of cancer means patients are more likely to survive and have lower treatment costs, Sabik said her research should be considered as the country debates the future of the Medicaid and ACA.

"I think our findings show that these expansions of Medicaid have important implications for individuals' health and diagnosis of serious and costly diseases," she said. "These expansions of Medicaid coverage may, in the long-term, save lives." 

Sabik said she would like to study more years of post-expansion data in the future to find out if there is a corresponding decrease in late-stage cancer diagnoses because the disease is being caught earlier. 

Sabik said she would also like to expand the geographic scope of the research, since the database she and her team used, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Cancer Registry, only collects information on 13 states. SEER states include Alaska, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, New Jersey, Utah and Washington. 

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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