Pandemic policies have fewer adults skipping medical care due to cost

Nearly 5 million fewer people delayed care from 2019 to 2022, a study from the Urban Institute with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation revealed.

The study shows 4.75 million non-elderly Americans skipped necessary medical care, dropping from 12.1% to 9.7% in 2022.

For families below 138% of the federal poverty line, there was a 27% reduction in cost barriers. A 19% reduction was evident for families between 138% and 249% of the federal poverty line.

Researchers say these outcomes are a direct result of the Medicaid continuous coverage requirements and enhanced tax credits.

“Our findings show significant improvements in health insurance coverage and healthcare access under federal and state policy changes enacted during the public health emergency,” said Michael Karpman, principal research associate at the Urban Institute, in a statement. “The continued unwinding of the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement and the potential expiration of enhanced Marketplace subsidies after 2025 could make these gains in coverage and access difficult to sustain.”

The share of uninsured adults fell from 14.5% to 12.4% over the same time period. States that expanded Medicaid during this span had the largest decline in uninsurance and the largest increase in full-year coverage, the report found. Seven states expanded Medicaid between 2019 and 2022.

“Access to affordable, high-quality health coverage is critical to a healthy life,” said Kathy Hempstead, Ph.D., senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Policymakers should build upon pandemic-era policies that expanded access to coverage and reduced health disparities.”

Medicaid enrollment increased dramatically during the public health emergency when Medicaid disenrollments were suspended. Enhanced subsidies were extended through 2025 under the Inflation Reduction Act and are associated with increased marketplace enrollment.

The study also found fewer people did not receive prescriptions in order to save money, though the percent decrease was largest among adults in states that expanded Medicaid between 2019 and 2022. The authors suggest more states expanding Medicaid and bolstering pregnancy-related coverage for 12 months postpartum could improve the uninsurance rates more.