State Medicaid Coverage and Access to Care for Low-income Adults


Objective. Budgetary pressures have led some states to limit Medicaid eligibility. We evaluated access to care for all low-income adults by the extent of state Medicaid coverage. Methods. Current Population Survey data compiled by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured were used to rank the 48 continental states by the extent of Medicaid coverage for low-income non-elderly adults during 2000–2003. Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for 2000–2003 were used to assess indicators of access to care, including being unable to see a physician due to cost, not obtaining routine checkups, and four preventive services for appropriate age groups by state. Access gaps were calculated between low-income (under $25,000/year) and high-income ($50,000 or more/year) adults within each state to control for unmeasured economic and health system differences between states. Results. Access gaps between high and low-income people who could not see physicians due to cost were significantly smaller in states with the broadest Medicaid coverage compared with states with the narrowest coverage (19.2% vs. 23.7%, p=.003). Significantly smaller access gaps also occurred in states with broader Medicaid coverage for cholesterol testing (16.0% vs. 18.7%, p=.01), and Pap testing (6.0% vs. 10.8%, p=.002), but not colorectal cancer screening (13.3% vs. 12.5%, p=.28), mammography (14.3% vs. 19.7%, p=.07), and routine checkup within two years (8.0% vs. 9.3%, p=.10). Conclusions. A state’s level of Medicaid coverage was associated with access to physicians’ services, cholesterol testing, and cervical cancer screening for low-income adults. Broad Medicaid coverage may be an effective strategy for states to improve access to care and preventive services for low-income adults.