Medicaid expansions linked to slower rises in overdose deaths

The United States in recent years has increased healthcare access by broadening Medicaid coverage, but some worry that these Medicaid expansions lead to more abuse of prescription painkillers and thus worsen the opioid epidemic.

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A new study suggests that Medicaid expansions may, in fact, have the opposite effect. In a study examining the potential impact of 2001-02 Medicaid expansions by Arizona, Maine and New York—expansions that occurred just prior to the rise in overdose mortality nationwide—researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine found that from the time of these expansions through 2008, overdose mortality rates (mostly driven by fatal overdoses of opioids) rose significantly less in the expansion states than in non-expansion states. The study is published online this month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“These findings suggest that Medicaid expansions were unlikely to have contributed to the subsequent rise in drug overdose deaths, and may even have been protective,” said study lead author Atheendar S. Venkataramani, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the Penn Medicine. “The results should provide reassurance to policymakers who are concerned that state Medicaid expansions, including the recent expansions implemented as part of the Affordable Care Act, promote rises in drug overdose mortality.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.