Lessons from Early Medicaid Expansions Under Health Reform
Benjamin D. Sommers,¹ Emily Arntson,¹ Genevieve M. Kenney,² Arnold M. Epstein¹
¹Harvard School of Public Health—Department of Health Policy & Management
Background: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) dramatically expands Medicaid in 2014 in participating states. Meanwhile, six states have already expanded Medicaid since 2010 to some or all of the low-income adults targeted under health reform. We undertook an in-depth exploration of these six “early-expander” states—California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington—through interviews with high-ranking Medicaid officials.
Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with 11 high-ranking Medicaid officials in six states and analyzed the interviews using qualitative methods. Interviews explored enrollment outreach, stakeholder involvement, impact on beneficiaries, utilization and costs, implementation challenges, and potential lessons for 2014. Two investigators independently analyzed interview transcripts and iteratively refined the codebook until reaching consensus.
Results: We identified several themes. First, these expansions built upon pre-existing state-funded insurance programs for the poor. Second, predictions about costs and enrollment were challenging, indicating the uncertainty in projections for 2014. Other themes included greater than anticipated need for behavioral health services in the expansion population, administrative challenges of expansions, and persistent barriers to enrollment and access after expanding eligibility—though officials overall felt the expansions increased access for beneficiaries. Finally, political context—support or opposition from stakeholders and voters—plays a critical role in shaping the success of Medicaid expansions.
Conclusions: Early Medicaid expansions under the ACA offer important lessons to federal and state policymakers as the 2014 expansions approach. While the context of each state’s expansion is unique, key shared experiences were significant implementation challenges and opportunities for expanding access to needed services.
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