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Medicaid expansion: Study finds expanded program means better health outcomes for kids

  • / Updated:
  • Edwin Viera 

New York is one of the states opting to expand Medicaid as soon as it could through the Affordable Care Act, and recent studies found a 2014 decision has paid off in terms of better health outcomes.

One positive and unintended consequence of Medicaid expansion was found by researchers at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins University was fewer cases of child neglect in states with expanded Medicaid, compared to those without.

Elizabeth Letourneau, director of the Center, said on average, the difference is 13% to 16% fewer neglect cases in expansion states where parents can more easily afford health coverage.

“And financial instability is perhaps the most serious risk factor for neglect of children,” Letourneau pointed out. “There’s less medical debt, there’s less trying to figure out, ‘Do I buy this prescription medicine, or do I put food on the table for my family?'”

The researchers also found slight but positive trends in reducing physical abuse. The federal government provides funding to help states expand Medicaid programs. A dozen states have yet to agree to expansion, but several will have voters make the decision on their ballots in November.

A Columbia University study has also linked Medicaid coverage to a decrease in serious health outcomes in pregnancies.

While there are numerous programs to help families on an individual basis, Letourneau argued comprehensive policies like Medicaid shouldn’t be overlooked as a solution.

“If those policies happen to have the impact of driving down and preventing violence against children, you’re just going to get a much, much bigger bang for your buck,” Letourneau contended.

The federal government covers 90% of Medicaid expansion costs, and extra incentives were added during the pandemic. Paying for the remaining share out of a state’s budget has been a source of dissent, mostly among Republican policymakers.