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With Obamacare, fewer Americans were uninsured when they were told they had cancer

Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

Even prior to 2014, newly diagnosed cancer patients were less likely to be uninsured in the nine states that expanded Medicare. In 2013, 5 percent of these patients lacked health insurance, compared with 8.4 percent in the four states that did not expand Medicare.

Even before 2014, cancer patients in the nine states that expanded Medicare were less likely to be uninsured at the time of their diagnosis. In 2013, for instance, 5 percent of these patients lacked health insurance when they were told they had cancer, a figure that dropped to 2.5 percent the following year. Meanwhile, in the four states that didn't expand Medicare, the percentage who were uninsured when they were diagnosed rose from 8.4 percent in 2013 to 8.8 percent in 2014 (an increase that wasn't large enough to be statistically significant).

The researchers used the non-expansion states as a proxy for what would have happened nationwide if Obamacare had never become law. After accounting for demographic and other differences in the two groups of states, they calculated that the law's passage reduced the percentage of uninsured first-time cancer patients by 2.38 points -- or just about half.

The study makes no predictions about what would happen to these cancer patients if the Republicans promising to "repeal and replace" Obamacare succeed in that goal. But the gains seen in the study might not necessarily be erased, said study leader Aparna Soni.

Perhaps the patients who got insurance through Medicaid now see its value and would be more likely to pay for it themselves even if their subsidies went away, said Soni, a doctoral candidate in economics and public policy at Indiana University in Bloomington.

However, it's also possible that insurance rates may fall below 2013 levels if new kinds of low-skilled jobs are less likely to come with health insurance benefits, she said.

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