Both The Private Option And Traditional Medicaid Expansions Improved Access To Care For Low-Income Adults
Author: Benjamin D. Sommers, Robert J. Blendon, E. John Orav
Under the Affordable Care Act, thirty states and the District of Columbia have expanded eligibility for Medicaid, with several states using Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance (the “private option”). Despite vigorous debate over the use of private insurance versus traditional Medicaid to provide coverage to low-income adults, there is little evidence on the relative merits of the two approaches. We compared the first-year impacts of traditional Medicaid expansion in Kentucky, the private option in Arkansas, and nonexpansion in Texas by conducting a telephone survey of two distinct waves of low-income adults (5,665 altogether) in those three states in November–December 2013 and twelve months later. Using a difference-in-differences analysis, we found that the uninsurance rate declined by 14 percentage points in the two expansion states, compared to the nonexpansion state. In the expansion states, again compared to the nonexpansion state, skipping medications because of cost and trouble paying medical bills declined significantly, and the share of individuals with chronic conditions who obtained regular care increased. Other than coverage type and trouble paying medical bills (which decreased more in Kentucky than in Arkansas), there were no significant differences between Kentucky’s traditional Medicaid expansion and Arkansas’s private option, which suggests that both approaches improved access among low-income adults.