Low-Income Adults Favor Medicaid Expansion, Survey Finds

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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Low-income adults in the United States are strong supporters of Medicaid expansion, new research shows.

They also view coverage provided by Medicaid -- the publicly funded insurance program for the poor -- as equal to or better than private health insurance, the study from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed.

"In the debate over whether or not states should participate in Medicaid expansion, we rarely hear the perspectives of those people most directly impacted by policies surrounding Medicaid," study co-author Benjamin Sommers, an assistant professor of health policy and economics, said in a Harvard news release. "Our survey shows that expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is quite popular among lower-income Americans and that they generally consider Medicaid to be good coverage."

Under the Affordable Care Act, states have the option to expand Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level -- or less than $27,310 for a family of three. To date, 27 states and Washington D.C. are expanding coverage. The issue remains controversial in several of the remaining 23 states.

In conducting the study, researchers surveyed almost 3,000 low-income residents in Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas.

Each state took a different approach to Medicaid expansion. While Kentucky chose a traditional Medicaid expansion, Arkansas expanded coverage by using Medicaid funds to buy private health insurance for low-income residents. Texas has not chosen to expand Medicaid coverage.

The study, published online Oct. 8 in the journal Health Affairs, revealed that nearly 80 percent of the residents polled were in favor of Medicaid expansion. Of those that were uninsured, two-thirds said they were going to apply for Medicaid or subsidized private coverage in 2014.

The researchers also found that about 75 percent of the residents surveyed thought Medicaid was just as good or provided better-quality health care than private insurance. They said this perception was more common among racial and ethnic minorities as well as those with lower incomes, less education and more health issues.

The study's authors noted the three states included in the study are relatively conservative. As a result, they concluded support for Medicaid expansion could be even greater in other parts of the country. "If anything, support for Medicaid expansion is likely to be even higher in many other states," said Sommers.

The researchers pointed out that many of these low-income residents had significant medical issues, including high rates of chronic diseases. They also face financial barriers to health care and stand to benefit from Medicaid expansion, the authors said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services provides more on Medicaid expansion.