Kentucky Medicaid expansion boosts colorectal cancer screening, survival rates

Doctor talking to senior patient and her husband
Under its Medicaid expansion, rates of patient screening for colorectal cancer in Kentucky have increased dramatically, according to a new study. (Getty/olgachov)

Under its Medicaid expansion, rates of patient screening for colorectal cancer (CRC) in Kentucky have increased dramatically, according to a new study.

Kentucky currently ranks No. 1 in the U.S. for incidence and mortality involving cancer. It was also one of the first states to adopt the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Medicaid expansion option, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

“With increased ACA and Medicaid expansion, more screening was done for colorectal cancer and ultimately—postexpansion era—we are able to see two big findings: an increase in screening and an increase in survival rates,” Avinash Bhakta, M.D., a surgeon at the University of Kentucky and one of the study’s authors, told FierceHealthcare. 

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In fact, during that time, Kentucky went from 49th to 16th in the nation for colon cancer screening, the study found.  

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The study, designed by The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Kentucky Cancer Registry, collected data between the years 2011 and 2016. The conclusion was that Medicaid expansion led to a significant increase in colorectal cancer screening, diagnoses and overall survival for patients enrolled in Medicaid. 

Bhakta said he was disappointed to find that with the significant increase in Kentucky's Medicaid population over the span of the study, there was actually a slight increase of incidence of colorectal cancer in the Medicaid population instead of a projected drop.

“But if it continues to follow the trend over the next few years, I believe the incidence will drop,” he said.

The study also linked Medicaid expansion with the accelerated growth in the screening of younger patients between the ages of 20 and 40. 

Bhakta wants the healthcare community to note one important takeaway from this study: Screening saves lives.

“There have been several studies on how screening has contributed to a decrease in incidence and increase in survival of colon cancer, but this one shows the impact of increased screening and decreased barriers to the outcomes of colon cancer,” Bhakta said. 

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