Thursday, August 6, 2015

State says many screenings of Medicaid patients more than doubled after program was expanded under Obamacare

Countering assertions that Kentucky's Medicaid expansion doesn't guarantee health care, state officials have presented data showing that "Kentuckians on Medicaid were far more likely to get cancer screenings, physicals and dental check-ups after the state expanded the government program for the poor and disabled," Laura Ungar reports for The Courier-Journal.

The Department for Medicaid Services presented the data during the Aug. 5 meeting of the oversight team for a state effort to reduce deaths from chronic disease and improve the state’s health, Ungar reports.

"Kentucky ranks poorly on numerous health measures, and has some of the nation’s highest rates of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease," Ungar writes. "The new data shows that the number of Medicaid recipients receiving several types of preventive care rose sharply in 2014," when Medicaid was expanded under federal health reform.

Breast cancer screenings rose 111 percent, to 51,292; cervical cancer screenings rose 88 percent, to 78,281; and colorectal cancer screenings rose 108 percent, to 35,633.   "More Medicaid recipients got cholesterol screenings, flu shots and diabetes screenings," Ungar adds.

Preventive dental services also more than doubled, by 116 percent, to 159,508; and physical examinations were up 187 percent, to 63,888.

The numbers include Kentuckians in the traditional Medicaid program and those added to it through the expansion, which made households with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for Medicaid benefits. All Medicaid services are free to clients.

"The expansion has been controversial, with some opponents arguing it’s simply too costly and doesn’t ensure poor patients get care because many doctors won’t take Medicaid given its notoriously low reimbursement," Ungar notes.

Those critics, led by Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin and some legislators, have offered no data to support their assertions. Democrats, led by Beshear, have defended the expansion as a way to get health care to those who lacked insurance and improve the state's overall health status.

“I have said from day one that giving every Kentuckian access to affordable, quality health care coverage will help us tackle our ongoing abysmal health outcomes,” Beshear said. “I’m excited about the enormous gains we’re seeing and even more excited about the long-term implications for our state’s health.”

Hospitals argue that they lose money on Medicaid patients because the program reimburses hospitals at only 82 percent of cost, but Beshear administration officials note that hospitals have to write off much less care as charity because people who once got it are now insured. They say 82 percent is better than 0 percent, but some hospitals said the Medicaid losses have forced them to cut payrolls.

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