From the Journals

Medicaid expansion associated with lower cardiovascular mortality



Counties in states that expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act have experienced a significantly smaller increase in cardiovascular mortality rates among middle-aged adults, compared with counties in states that did not expand coverage, according to findings from a new study.

In expansion-state counties, the change in cardiovascular mortality was stable between the pre-expansion (2010-2013) and postexpansion (2014-2016) periods, at 146.5-146.4 deaths per 100,000 residents per year, compared with mortality rates in nonexpansion counties during the same periods (176.3-180.9 deaths per 100,000), Sameed Ahmed M. Khatana, MD, and colleagues wrote in JAMA Cardiology.

“After accounting for demographic, clinical, and economic differences, counties in expansion states had 4.3 fewer deaths per 100,000 residents per year from cardiovascular causes after Medicaid expansion than if they had followed the same trends as counties in nonexpansion states,” Dr. Khatana, of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and colleagues wrote..

That translated into 2,039 fewer total deaths per year in residents aged between 45 and 64 years from cardiovascular causes after Medicaid expansion, the authors noted.

In all, 29 states, plus Washington, D.C., were included in the expansion group, and 19 states were in the nonexpansion (control) group. During the study period, from 2010 to 2016, the number of expansion counties ranged between 912 and 931, and for the nonexpansion counties, between 985 and 1,029. About half of the residents in each group were women. The percentage of black residents was lower in expansion states, but the percentage of Hispanic residents did not differ. Compared with nonexpansion counties, expansion counties also had a lower prevalence of diabetes (8.5% vs. 9.7% in the nonexpansion counties), obesity (26.2% vs. 29.1%), and smoking (17.1 vs. 18.9%); a lower mean percentage of poor residents (14.4% vs 16.6%; all with P less than .001); and a higher median household income.

Expansion counties also fared better when it came to health insurance coverage. In 2010, 14.6% of their residents had no coverage, compared with 19.5% of residents in nonexpansion counties. During the study period, the decrease in the percentage of middle-aged residents without health coverage was larger in expansion than in nonexpansion counties (7.3% vs. 5.6%, respectively), as was the decrease in low-income residents without coverage (19.8% vs. 13.5%).

However, the authors cautioned that, given the observational nature of the study, they were “not able to make a causal association between expansion of Medicaid eligibility and differences in the cardiovascular mortality rates between the two groups of counties. It is possible that there were other unmeasured time varying factors that can explain the observed association.”

Despite that limitation of the study, which observed adults in all income categories and was not limited to low-income residents, the researchers noted that, given the association between Medicaid expansion and cardiovascular mortality rates, as well as the “high burden of cardiovascular risk factors among individuals without insurance and those with lower socioeconomic status,” policy makers might consider the results in future discussions about changes to eligibility for and expansion of Medicaid.

Dr. Khatana is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Two authors reported relationships with drug companies outside of the reported study; the rest of the authors had no disclosures to report.

SOURCE: Khatana SAM et al. JAMA Cardiol. 2019 Jun 5. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2019.1651.

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