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ACA Medicaid expansion helped detect cancer earlier, study finds

U.S. states that have expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act saw an increase in the number of cancer diagnoses, particularly those at early stages, a new study shows.

Research from Indiana University suggests that public health insurance may increase cancer detection, which can lead to fewer cancer deaths and better outcomes for patients.

"Early detection is a key step to reducing cancer mortality, and our findings suggest that Medicaid expansion under the ACA led to more and earlier cancer detection," said Aparna Soni, the study's corresponding author.

Previous research by Soni and her co-author, Kosali Simon, found that the ACA increased insurance coverage among people already diagnosed with cancer.

In the study, researchers examined cancer registry data from 2010 through 2014 to estimate post-ACA changes in county-level cancer diagnosis rates, both overall and by stages, in states that expanded Medicaid in 2014 compared with those that did not.

Medicaid expansion led to an increase of 15.4 early-stage diagnoses per 100,000 people, or 6.4%, from pre-ACA levels, according to the study.

There was no detectable impact on late-stage diagnoses. The overall cancer diagnosis rate surged 3.4% in Medicaid expansion states versus nonexpansion states.

"Medical research already shows that early cancer diagnosis is important for increasing the probability of successful treatment, reducing mortality and controlling costs. However, Medicaid expansion appears to have no effect on the diagnosis of late-stage cancers," Simon said.

The increase in diagnosis was steeper for people, aged 35 to 54, and with cancers that are easiest to detect. Rise in overall diagnoses was largely driven by increases among people, aged 45 to 54, and among those with prostate cancer.