A spillover effect: Medicaid expansion leads to healthier dietary choices

September 08, 2020

Besides providing healthcare to millions, Medicaid helps recipients make healthier food choices according to UConn research published in the journal Health Economics. UConn Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Rigoberto Lopez, Rebecca Boehm now an economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Xi He now a post-doctoral researcher at the Iowa State were interested in investigating the impact of Medicaid on food choices.

Medicaid is beneficial to recipients in a multitude of ways, by reducing emergency room visits, increasing access to preventive healthcare, while reducing out-of-pocket medical costs and debt, for instance. The program is highly politicized and is met with criticism and assumptions that it is too costly, yet research has shown the program actually saves states money.

He, Lopez, and Boehm were interested in looking at other potential benefits of the program and also hoped to bridge some gaps in the literature says He,

"There are many studies about the impact of Medicaid on mental health or on health spending but few studies have looked at how Medicaid affects food choices."

He explains that by virtue of spending less on healthcare, new Medicaid recipients would have more room in their budget for food and therefore may spend more money on the same unhealthy foods and beverages they have always purchased. On the other hand, with more access to healthcare and health education through contact with providers, the researchers surmised that purchasing patterns could improve, says He.

To see if this was the case, the researchers looked at purchases of beverages such as carbonated soft drinks, juice, milk and other non-alcoholic beverages before and after the expansion of Medicaid and compared purchases in states that did and did not expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. In a way, the states that did not expand Medicaid were the control group for their study. They also compared purchase preferences for sugar content of these beverages.

"We found that households in expansion states significantly increased their purchase of diet soda and bottled water, but there was no change in purchase of regular soda. But overall, these results indicate that Medicaid expansion, in states that did expand, shifted people's purchases to products with less sugar," says He.

Access to healthcare has wide-ranging positive effects on the lives and habits of recipients. The added benefit of knowledge resulting from access to healthcare is not a policy mechanism that is usually discussed says Boehm,

"With so many people working to help people eat healthier and to reduce obesity in the US, I don't hear a lot of talk about how the provision of healthcare through this income effect we proposed in this study can help people eat and drink healthier."

Lopez says programs like Medicaid are often unfairly attacked and those attacks are done so without the numbers and data, therefore it is vital that research like this reaches decision makers.

"Besides the obvious benefit of subsidized healthcare, there is an additional spillover of the program in promoting a healthy diet by reducing one of the three evils of the American diet - sugar -- which is bad in all respects from calories to cancer to obesity. The program contributes not just to cover the treatment of patients but also in a more preventive way," says Lopez.

The researchers add that now with the pandemic, prevention and access to healthcare is more vital than ever. This is especially true for those with pre-existing conditions and conditions that put people at an increased risk for corona virus, such as obesity.

Continued research on the implications of programs such as Medicaid are needed, says Lopez, who says policy decisions need to be made based on research, not politics.

"It's important to see if we spend this money on Medicaid, we're getting some of it back even if it's indirect," says Boehm. "Policy makers need to have this information. Not all states expanded Medicaid under the ACA, so if we have these results saying we see diet quality benefits that may help push other states to join the expansion.

University of Connecticut

Related Healthcare Articles from Brightsurf:

How to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19
Researchers are developing simple and inexpensive tools--like a DIY ventilator--to treat patients more effectively and prevent disease transmission in hospitals.

Healthcare as a climate solution
Although the link may not be obvious, healthcare and climate change -- two issues that pose major challenges around the world -- are in fact more connected than society may realize.

Healthcare's earthquake: Lessons from COVID-19
Leaders and clinician researchers from Beth Israel Lahey Health propose using complexity science to identify strategies that healthcare organizations can use to respond better to the ongoing pandemic and to anticipate future challenges to healthcare delivery.

Poor women in Bangladesh reluctant to use healthcare
A study, published in PLOS ONE, found that the women living in Dhaka slums were reluctant to use institutionalised maternal health care for fear of having to make undocumented payments, unfamiliar institutional processes, lack of social and family support, matters of honour and shame, a culture of silence and inadequate spousal communication on health issues.

Women and men executives have differing perceptions of healthcare workplaces according to a survey report in the Journal of Healthcare Management
Healthcare organizations that can attract and retain talented women executives have the advantage over their peers, finds a special report in the September/October issue of the Journal of Healthcare Management, an official publication of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE).

Greater financial integration generally not associated with better healthcare quality
New findings from a Dartmouth-led study, published in the August issue of Health Affairs, show that larger, more integrated healthcare systems do not generally deliver better quality care, and that there is significant variation in quality scores across hospitals and physician practices, regardless of whether they are independent or owned by larger systems.

Wearable sensor may help to assess stress in healthcare workers
A wearable biosensor may help monitor stress experienced by healthcare professionals, according to a study published in Physiological Reports.

Healthcare innovators focus on 'quality as a business strategy' -- update from Journal of Healthcare Quality
Despite two decades of effort -- targeting care processes, outcomes, and most recently the value of care - progress has been slow in closing the gap between quality and cost in the US healthcare system.

How runaway healthcare costs are a threat to older adults and what to do about it
Empowering Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices, accelerating the adoption of value-based care, using philanthropy as a catalyst for reform and expanding senior-specific models of care are among recommendations for reducing healthcare costs published in a new special report and supplement to the Winter 2019-20 edition of Generations, the journal of the American Society of Aging (ASA).

How can healthcare achieve real technology driven transformation?
Real transformation in healthcare through the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, telecommunications, and other advanced technologies could provide significant improvements in healthcare quality, productivity, and access.

Read More: Healthcare News and Healthcare Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.