Obamacare Led to Decrease in Cancer Mortality, According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Researchers

Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) identified a correlation between the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare, and decreased cancer mortality. Specifically, states that adopted Medicaid expansion, compared to those that did not, had fewer cancer deaths.

The research was discussed during the press program for the virtual annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

The U.S. sees 1.8 million new cancer diagnoses annually, and access to health care is correlated with survival outcomes, said lead study author Anna Lee, MD, MPH, radiation oncology fellow at MSK.

“Knowing this information, we wanted to study if there was an additional cancer mortality benefit for residents of states that expanded to Medicaid under the ACA, compared to those that did not.”

National Center for Health Statistics data show that almost 20 million Americans became insured between 2010 and 2016 due to Congress’ 2010 approval of the ACA. In the present study, Dr. Lee and researchers observed a 29% decline in age-adjusted cancer mortality in states with expanded Medicaid from 1997 (65.1%) to 2017 (46.3%) per 100,000 individuals. In contrast, states that did not have Medicaid expansion declined from 69.5% to 52.3% per 100,000 individuals during the same time period.

Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics of all U.S. residents, Dr. Lee and colleagues compared age-adjusted cancer-related mortality rates for 2011–2013, before full state expansion, and 2015–2017, after full state expansion, between states that did (n=27 states [plus District of Columbia]) versus did not (n=23) adopt Medicaid expansion.

According to senior author Fumiko Chino, MD, a radiation oncologist at MSK, states that adopted Medicaid expansion had an estimated fewer 785 cancer-related deaths in 2017.

“We estimate that an additional 589 cancer deaths could have been prevented if non-expanded states had expanded Medicaid,” said Dr. Chino.

“We are proud to release the findings of the first nationwide study to show that Medicaid expansion is associated with a reduction in cancer deaths,” said Dr. Lee. “However, more research is needed to understand how national programs and policies, such as the ACA, will continue to improve access to care and decrease healthcare disparities.”