Election 2019 Health

Governor-elect Andy Beshear is preparing his transition team and outlining his top priorities for his term. One of those is Medicaid; Beshear says he’ll abandon current Governor Matt Bevin’s efforts to change the insurance program for people with low incomes and disabilities.

Bevin has fought for his signature program over the past four years, which would require some Medicaid enrollees pay for coverage and work or volunteer to keep their insurance. Most of those changes are stalled in the courts; Beshear said Wednesday he would abandon those efforts.

“We are going to take the steps to move forward to make sure we are ready to take those steps that we’ve promised within week one, that include rescinding that Medicaid waiver and saving health care for 95,000 Kentuckians,” Beshear said.

He’s previously said the expansion of Medicaid — which was implemented by his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear — improved health outcomes for those enrollees. And there’s an increasing body of evidence to back that up.

Research shows that the expansion of Medicaid has resulted in more Kentuckians getting preventive health screenings and led to people getting treatment for health conditions. And a new study out this week finds that states that expanded Medicaid also have fewer preventable hospitalizations.

The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, found states that expanded Medicaid had lower rates of inpatient hospital days for cases that could have been prevented, and lower hospital costs. Study authors say that the findings aren’t a definitive picture of how Medicaid expansion impacted people going to the hospital, but that the findings suggest significant potential.

“Reductions in preventable hospitalizations associated with Medicaid expansion were found to be largely concentrated in chronic respiratory conditions (COPD and asthma), diabetes-related complications and bacterial pneumonia,” study authors wrote. “Our study findings suggest the potential of Medicaid expansions to reduce the need for costly preventable hospitalizations in vulnerable populations and produce cost savings for the U.S. health care system.”

Other research released earlier in July from the University of Michigan studied the relationship between Medicaid enrollment and deaths. That study found that in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, 15,600 deaths would have been prevented if those states had expanded coverage. Meanwhile, 19,200 lives were saved in the same period in states that expanded Medicaid.

That research showed that the reduction in deaths were driven by a decrease in disease-related deaths, and that those reductions would grow over time. Aviva Aron-Dine, vice president for public policy at the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the newest studies build on existing research showing the expansion of Medicaid coverage improves access to health care.

“But now more than five years in, we’re beginning to see new research illuminating how expansion affects health and financial outcomes,” Aron-Dine said. “There is no way to deny that by refusing to expand, state policymakers are denying life-saving care to thousands of their residents.”

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.