According to a story from statnews.com, a recent study found that the Affordable Care Act was able to help reduce differences in access to critical cancer treatment between black and white patients. One of the critical components of the ACA was the optional Medicaid expansion in the states. Medicaid is a health coverage program for people who are living in poverty, and the Medicaid expansion allowed a greater number of a state’s population to receive assistance under the program.
The Medicaid expansion proved to play a key role in the findings from the study. The researchers looked at a large pool of patients that were treated for cancer using chemotherapy. The data pool included 18,678 patients who were either treated before their state chose to expand Medicaid or lived in a state that chose not to do so at all. These were compared to 11,708 cancer patients that were treated in states that went forward with the Medicaid expansion.
In the states that did not expand Medicaid, white cancer patients were able to receive chemotherapy within a month of their diagnosis at a rate of 48.3 percent. For black patients, this rate was only 43.5 percent, nearly a five percent difference. While this may seem like only a minor difference, such delays in treatment can make the difference between long term survival or a cure and death or rapid disease progression. Black patients in these states were at a clear disadvantage when it came to accessing prompt treatment for cancer with chemotherapy.
Meanwhile, in states that chose to expand Medicaid the disparity was only 0.8 percent. The expansion was able to increase the percentage of white patients that got chemo within a month by two percent, but for black cancer patients the rate increased by six percent. The data used in the study was from a database operated by the tech startup Flatiron Health, based in New York. The study did not investigate factors such as which patients used Medicaid or the overall socioeconomic status of the patients.
The findings from this study highlight why adequate access to treatment is essential and that programs that make improvements to access can play a useful role in reducing racial disparities.