Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014 has had a notable impact on the diagnoses of early stage colorectal cancer compared to non-expansion states, according to a recent study published in the Journal of American College of Surgeons (JACS). In addition to cancer diagnoses, changes in cancer staging, surgical outcomes, and decisions regarding treatment all saw a positive effect of Medicaid expansion.
The study included Medicaid and uninsured patients listed in the National Cancer Database before the expansion (2011-2012) as well as post expansion (2015-2016). Specifically, the study analyzed 4,438 patients who resided in 19 states that have implemented the expansion as well as 6,017 patients who resided in 19 non-expansion states. Comparatively, patients in states that had expanded Medicaid access saw a multitude of benefits including:
- Increase in stage I diagnoses
- Increased treatment at integrated network programs
- Quicker treatment post-diagnosis (within 30 days)
- More palliative care for stage IV patients
- More minimally invasive surgeries
Expansion in all-but 12 states has allowed for more low-income patients to receive crucial public health screenings including colonoscopies, which is one of the screening methods that detects colorectal cancer. The 12 states that did not adopt the expansion include: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. People who were most impacted by the expansion, according to the study, were in the 40 to 64 age group without health insurance or who had Medicaid.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), having adequate access to health care and screenings is especially crucial for colorectal cancer, the fourth most common cancer in the U.S, as research has shown that rates of diagnoses amongst people below the age of 65 are increasing. The ACS also reports that one in three people who should receive regular screenings do not, due to lack of insurance or barriers to health care access.
The expansion of the ACA is a step in the right direction for increasing screenings. However, the positive impact of the ACA doesn’t stop with increased screening—-it improves surgical outcomes and limits invasive procedures, as well as limits the number of cases of advanced colorectal cancer.
Doctors assure patients that colorectal cancer is relatively manageable and treatable if detected early. Dr. Samer T. Tohme, surgical oncologist at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hillman Cancer Center and one of the lead authors of the current JACS study, says, “Studies show that patients who are diagnosed with cancer at an earlier stage are more likely to have better treatment options, improved quality of care, and longer survival.” Once diagnosed at an early stage, the patient may be spared the tough job of making significant decisions regarding their treatment plan.
Advanced stages of colorectal cancer are associated with increased length of treatment, cost, distance traveled, and overall complexity of care, according to the research study. Medicaid expansion gives a large population of people a chance to avoid many of the stressors associated with dealing with an advanced chronic illness.
Patients in expansion states diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer have access to palliative care services if needed. Palliative care is an essential element of health care since it provides people with the dignity of symptom relief and comfort during end-stages of a terminal illness.
Overall, the ACA has provided a key framework for the future of oncology care and prevention in the U.S. According to Dr. Richard S. Hoen, surgical oncology fellow at UPMC and a co-author of the study, “Studies like ours are building an increasing body of network that suggests the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion are improving health care access and treatment for cancer patients.”
The advances that the ACA expansion was able to deliver to colorectal cancer patients across the U.S. are also improving overall cancer care while reducing morbidity and mortality rates. To evaluate your risk for colorectal cancer or obtain a colonoscopy, contact your primary care provider.