Medicaid Expansion Benefits Some CRC Patients, but Not Others

Jim Kling

February 15, 2022

Two new studies suggest the expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 may be leading to more frequent diagnosis of colorectal cancer (CRC) among Hispanics.

The studies, presented at the 2022 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, suggest that Medicaid expansion may have a diverse impact on various ethnic groups.

"The take-home message for both physicians and policy makers is that health policy has the capacity to shift health care delivery, yet we need to consider the effects of health policy might influence subgroups of patients differently. This is useful information for providers caring for a diverse group of patients. For policy makers, this study emphasizes the importance of evaluating the impact of health policy among different racial and ethnic subgroups to fully understand the impact of [policy] change," said study lead author James D. Murphy, MD, MS, assistant vice chair of radiation medicine at the University of California San Diego.

Murphy and associates cautioned that other factors, not just Medicaid expansion, could be responsible for the uptick in colon cancer diagnoses.

"Our observations could potentially be influenced by other risk factors. Medicaid expansion was not a 'randomized experiment,' and states which opted to expand Medicaid might have fundamental differences which could impact colorectal cancer incidence," he said.

His group's analysis of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database included 21 states where Medicaid was expanded and 16 states where expansion did not occur. Between 2010-2013 and 2014-2018, among patients under 65, overall colorectal cancer incidence rates did not differ by Medicaid expansion status. In nonexpansion states, there was a greater increase in CRC rates among Hispanics (5.4 vs. 1.6 increase per 100,000; P = .002) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (4.3 vs. 0.4 per 100,000; P = .02), but there was no difference among Black or non-Hispanic White individuals.

Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer Diagnoses Increase Under Medicaid Expansion

In another study presented at the meeting, researchers examined early-onset CRC data from the National Cancer Database. Among Hispanics, the rate of change of incidence of newly diagnosed cases among patients age 40-49 in Medicaid expansion states increased from 4.3% per year between 2010 and 2014 and 9.8% between 2014 and 2017. That compares with the general background increase in incidence of about 2%. In nonexpansion states, the rate of change decreased from 6.4% to 1% (P = .03). There were no statistically significant differences in the change of incidence among Blacks or Whites between expansion and nonexpansion states.

The reduced rate of change among Hispanics in nonexpansion states was a surprise, and the researchers haven't determined the reason, according to Sanjay Goel, MD, an oncologist with Montefiore Medical Center, New York, and lead author on the National Cancer Database study. Goel speculated that some people may have migrated from nonexpansion states to states that expanded Medicaid in order to gain health care coverage.

The apparent benefit seen in Hispanics, but not Black patients, may be caused by greater susceptibility to early-onset CRC among Hispanics, leading to a stronger effect on that population when Medicaid was expanded, Goel said.

"At this point, with our available data, we do not have the ability to understand the underlying sources of these disparities, though these are questions which deserve additional research," Murphy said.

Regardless of the reason, the message is clear, Goel said. "The bottom we want to state is that politics aside, providing health care coverage to as many people as possible, ideally to everyone, is the right way of going forward."

The implications of the findings extend beyond policy. "The general advice I give is that, especially if you treat a Hispanic person, regardless of age, with any symptom or sign that could be suggestive of a malignancy, do not take it lightly. Follow the patient closely. I'm not advocating that you refer everybody with lower abdominal pain or bleeding for a colonoscopy, but do factor it in mind. Call them back in a week or 2, or have them make a follow-up appointment in a month so that they don't get neglected by the system."

Murphy and Goel have no relevant financial disclosures. The Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium is sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Society for Clinical Oncology, the American Society for Radiation Oncology, and the Society of Surgical Oncology.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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