Medicaid, the nation’s public health insurance program for people with low income, covers 74 million Americans today, including millions of low-income adults. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded Medicaid to nonelderly adults with income up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL), and, in the 32 states (including DC) that implemented the expansion, more than 11 million adults have gained Medicaid as a result. Chronic illness is prevalent in the adult Medicaid population. Preventive care, including immunizations and regular screenings that permit early detection and treatment of chronic conditions, improves the prospects for better health outcomes. This Data Note focuses on Medicaid’s role in providing access to preventive care for low-income adults.
Why is preventive care for adult Medicaid Enrollees Important?
Adults in Medicaid have high rates of preventable and controllable conditions. Nearly one-third (30%) of non-elderly adult Medicaid beneficiaries report that they are in only fair or poor health – roughly double the percentage of low-income privately insured and uninsured adults who report fair or poor health (Figure 1). Medicaid adults also have significantly higher rates of chronic conditions and risky health behaviors that may be amenable to preventive care. One in 10 adult enrollees has a diagnosed mental illness; 7 in 10 are overweight or obese, and almost 1 in 3 smoke tobacco.
Preventive care can reduce disease and avoidable use of high-cost services. Increased access to screening for diabetes, cancer, depression, and o ther chronic conditions, and counseling to address behavioral risk factors, have the potential to reduce disease and prevent exacerbations of conditions that can be medically managed. Improved health may reduce the use of avoidable hospital and other high-cost care, and reduce Medicaid spending. For example, smoking can cause heart disease and other chronic illnesses that one study estimated may be responsible for more than $75 billion in Medicaid costs. Medicaid coverage of smoking cessation services, including quit lines and medications, has the potential to mitigate both the health and cost impacts of smoking. Obesity, a major driver of preventable chronic illness and health care costs, affects about two-thirds of low-income adults. Findings from one study indicate that severe obesity in adults cost state Medicaid programs almost $8 billion in 2013, suggesting that “effective treatment for severe obesity should be part of each state’s strategy to mitigate rising obesity-related costs.”
What Preventive Services Does Medicaid Cover for Adults?
Coverage of most adult preventive services has historically been optional for states. Medicaid coverage of preventive services for children has long been strong, as states must cover comprehensive preventive services at no cost for children in Medicaid under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit. In contrast, historically, coverage of adult preventive care has been largely optional for states, with some exceptions – states must cover pregnancy-related care and family planning services without cost-sharing. In addition, within federal guidelines, states can charge adults cost-sharing for preventive services.
The ACA expanded coverage of adult preventive care. An important thrust of the ACA was an emphasis on preventive care. In particular, the ACA included recommended preventive services without patient cost-sharing as one of the 10 “essential health benefits” (EHBs) that most health plans are now required to cover. The required preventive services are based on the recommendations of independent, expert clinical panels and include, for adults: 1) screening and counseling services (e.g., cancer screening, diet counseling); 2) routine immunizations; and 3) preventive services for women. The EHB requirement applies to Medicaid benefits for adults who are newly eligible due to the ACA expansion, but not “traditional” Medicaid adults, for whom most preventive services are optional for states and can require cost-sharing within federal guidelines. To incentivize states to cover the EHB preventive services for all Medicaid adults, the ACA provided for a one percentage point increase in the federal Medicaid match rate for these services in states that opt to cover all of them without cost-sharing.
Read the full data note.