Senators stand poised to vote on the Republican health care bill this week, which in its current form would slash the budget for Medicaid, the government program that cares for millions of uninsured Americans. The bill also would leave 22 million more Americans without health insurance by 2026, the Congressional Budget Office predicted on Monday.
A new study, which found a connection between Medicaid cuts in Tennessee and an uptick late-stage breast cancer diagnoses in the state, provides compelling evidence that GOP senators may want to consider before they vote. Late-stage cancer diagnoses are concerning because they’re more likely to be fatal, and are harder and more expensive to treat.
“Medicaid rollbacks may limit access to preventive and primary care that facilitates early diagnosis for low-income patients, which could lead to higher health care costs and poorer health outcomes over time,” said Lindsay Sabik, author of the study published Monday in the journal Cancer and associate professor of health policy and management at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
“When women lose access to health insurance, they may be less likely to receive recommended mammograms and to have regular access to primary care services that would facilitate early diagnosis of cancer,” Sabik told HuffPost.
The study examined what happened in 2005, when Tennessee terminated Medicaid coverage for 170,000 enrollees because of financial problems. The move eliminated those individuals’ coverage for breast cancer screenings and treatment.
Using Tennessee Cancer Registry data from 2002 to 2008, researchers compared non-elderly women diagnosed with breast cancer in high-income zip codes with non-elderly women diagnosed in low-income zip codes, before and after the Medicaid rollback.
The result: 40 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in low-income zip codes got a late-stage breast cancer diagnosis, compared with 35 percent before the rollback. Women in high-income zip codes got a late-stage diagnosis 36 percent of the time, compared with about 35 percent before the rollback.
In the United States, about 12 percent of women will develop breast cancer during their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Since the study was specific to Tennessee, the findings can’t necessarily be extrapolated to rest of the country. There are, however, lessons for other states.
“The shift to late stage cancer diagnoses that we observe after Medicaid cutbacks suggests that we could see similar negative impacts on health outcomes in other states and across other diseases if people lose health insurance,” Sabik said.