Medicaid Expansion Reduced Racial Disparities in Cancer Treatment

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Blythe J.S. Adamson, PhD, MPH Senior Quantitative Scientist Flatiron Health

Dr. Adamson

Blythe J.S. Adamson, PhD, MPH
Senior Quantitative Scientist
Flatiron Health

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Racial disparities in access and outcomes have been documented across the full trajectory of cancer-related care. This includes access to prevention and screening, to early diagnosis, treatment, survival and other health outcomes. While these disparities have been well documented, finding mechanisms to reduce disparities is more challenging. One potential mechanism to reduce treatment disparities is to improve access to insurance coverage. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed in March 2010, included as its overall goals the improvement in healthcare quality and access, and enhancing equity in treatment and outcomes. The ACA allowed states to expand Medicaid to poor and near-poor adults, and this was implemented by many states starting in 2014. In addition, the ACA established private insurance marketplaces with income-based premium subsidies and limits on out-of-pocket spending for qualifying low-income enrollees.

Prior research has demonstrated that ACA Medicaid expansions are associated with increased coverage and improved overall access for cancer survivors; and for newly diagnosed patients, the ACA was associated with increased coverage and shifts to earlier stage diagnosis for some cancers. To our knowledge, no research has yet demonstrated that the ACA coverage expansions affected the process of cancer care, specific cancer treatments received or specific treatment outcomes, let alone whether disparities were reduced.  In this study we looked at the time from advanced/metastatic diagnosis to start of systemic treatment for black vs. white patients and based on whether they were diagnosed at a time and in a state that had vs. had not implemented Medicaid expansion. Our study hypothesis was that Medicaid expansion reduced disparity in timely treatment of black patients compared to white patients with advanced cancer. We defined timely treatment as start of systemic therapy within 30 days of advanced/metastatic diagnosis.

This is a retrospective observational study, not a randomized controlled trial. In other words, we selected a cohort of patients diagnosed with advanced or metastatic cancers over time and observed whether they received timely treatment. The Flatiron Health EHR-derived database was the principal data source for this research. Flatiron contributing practices include 280 cancer community based clinics and academic hospital outpatient settings (~800 sites of care) representing more than 2.2 million patients with cancer in the United States. Practices are located in 40 states. To produce the database, Flatiron extracted data from structured fields, including demographics, and recorded medication orders and administrations. Flatiron also abstracted unstructured data, using technology assisted review by highly trained clinicians. Abstracted data include diagnosis date, stage, and prescribed oral anticancer medications. The database used for research purposes was de-identified. We also used data from the Kaiser Family Foundation which has tracked Medicaid implementation policies for over twenty years, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics from which we pulled state-year unemployment rates.

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