Study ties 'Obamacare' to fewer cancer deaths in some states

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 file photo, a doctor, center, directs a special camera to look at a patient's tumor at a hospital in Philadelphia. According to research released on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, cancer deaths have dropped more in states that expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act than in states that did not. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Cancer deaths have dropped more in states that expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act than in states that did not, new research reveals.

The report Wednesday is the first evidence tying cancer survival to the health care change, which began in 2014 after the law known as “Obamacare” took full effect, said one study leader, Dr. Anna Lee of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“For a policy to have this amount of impact in a short amount of years” is remarkable, because cancer often takes a long time to develop and prove fatal, she said.

Lee discussed the results in an American Society of Clinical Oncology news conference as part of its annual meeting later this month.

The law let states expand Medicaid eligibility and offer subsidies to help people buy health insurance. Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., did that, and 20 million Americans gained coverage that way. The other 23 states did not expand benefits.

Researchers used national health statistics on cancer deaths to track trends before and after the law. They looked only at deaths in people under 65, who stood to benefit from the change because those older already were covered by Medicare. About 30% of U.S. cancer deaths are in people under 65.

The cancer death rate fell throughout the United States from 1999 to 2017 in that age group, but more in states that expanded Medicaid -- 29% versus 25% in states that did not.

Researchers specifically compared death rates from 2011 to 2013, before the health care change, to 2015 to 2017, after it. In states that expanded coverage, the change meant 785 fewer cancer deaths in 2017. Another 589 deaths could have been prevented that year if all states had expanded Medicaid, researchers estimated.