From the Journals

Improved cancer survival in states with ACA Medicaid expansion


In states that adopted Medicaid expansion following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), patients with cancer have improved 2-year overall survival rates, compared with patients in states that did not adopt the expansion.

The finding comes from an American Cancer Society study of more than 2 million patients with newly diagnosed cancer, published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The analysis also showed that the evidence was strongest for malignancies with poor prognosis such as lung, pancreatic, and liver cancer, and also for colorectal cancer.

Importantly, improvements in survival were larger in non-Hispanic Black patients and individuals residing in rural areas, suggesting there was a narrowing of disparities in cancer survival by race and rurality.

“Our findings provide further evidence of the importance of expanding Medicaid eligibility in all states, particularly considering the economic crisis and health care disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said lead author Xuesong Han, PhD, scientific director of health services research at the American Cancer Society, in a statement. “What’s encouraging is the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides new incentives for Medicaid expansion in states that have yet to increase eligibility.”

The ACA provided states with incentives to expand Medicaid eligibility to all low-income adults under 138% federal poverty level, regardless of parental status.

As of last month, just 12 states have not yet opted for Medicaid expansion, even though the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides new incentives for those remaining jurisdictions. But to date, none of the remaining states have taken advantage of these new incentives.

An interactive map showing the status of Medicare expansion by state is available here. The 12 states that have not adopted Medicare expansion (as of April) are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The benefit of Medicaid expansion on cancer outcomes has already been observed in other studies. The first study to show a survival benefit was presented at the 2020 American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting. That analysis showed that cancer mortality declined by 29% in states that expanded Medicaid and by 25% in those that did not. The authors also noted that the greatest mortality benefit was observed in Hispanic patients.

Improved survival with expansion

In the current paper, Dr. Han and colleagues used population-based cancer registries from 42 states and compared data on patients aged 18-62 years who were diagnosed with cancer in a period of 2 years before (2010-2012) and after (2014-2016) ACA Medicaid expansion. They were followed through Sept. 30, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2017, respectively.

The analysis involved a total of 2.5 million patients, of whom 1.52 million lived in states that adopted Medicaid expansion and compared with 1 million patients were in states that did not.

Patients with grouped by sex, race and ethnicity, census tract-level poverty, and rurality. The authors note that non-Hispanic Black patients and those from high poverty areas and nonmetropolitan areas were disproportionately represented in nonexpansion states.

During the 2-year follow-up period, a total of 453,487 deaths occurred (257,950 in expansion states and 195,537 in nonexpansion states).

Overall, patients in expansion states generally had better survival versus those in nonexpansion states, the authors comment. However, for most cancer types, overall survival improved after the ACA for both groups of states.

The 2-year overall survival increased from 80.6% before the ACA to 82.2% post ACA in expansion states and from 78.7% to 80% in nonexpansion states.

This extrapolated to net increase of 0.44 percentage points in expansion states after adjusting for sociodemographic factors. By cancer site, the net increase was greater for colorectal cancer, lung cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, and liver cancer.

For Hispanic patients, 2-year survival also increased but was similar in expansion and nonexpansion states, and little net change was associated with Medicaid expansion.

“Our study shows that the increase was largely driven by improvements in survival for cancer types with poor prognosis, suggesting improved access to timely and effective treatments,” said Dr. Han. “It adds to accumulating evidence of the multiple benefits of Medicaid expansion.”

A version of this article first appeared on

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