(Bloomberg) — The number of Americans whose cancers were diagnosed at the earliest stage, when it’s most likely to be cured, increased after Affordable Care Act coverage expansion programs went into effect and more citizens had access to health insurance, a new study found.
While the effect was small, the study found that a higher proportion of new breast, lung and colorectal tumors were detected at stage 1 in 2014 compared with a year earlier. About 16.4 million Americans gained coverage under the ACA by March 2015 through a combination of private and public insurance, according to a U.S. government analysis.
The shift to earlier diagnosis, particularly for colorectal and lung cancers, happened primarily in states that expanded access to Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor, according to the study. At the start of 2014, about half of states — largely led by Republican governors or legislatures that opposed the ACA — had opted not to expand Medicaid under the law, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
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“People without insurance are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, especially for the cancers that can be detected early through screening or symptoms,” said lead author Xuesong Han, strategic director of health policy and health care delivery research at the American Cancer Society.
The study is scheduled to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting next month in Chicago. It was funded and conducted by the American Cancer Society, whose political advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, was a supporter of the Affordable Care Act and has opposed Republican efforts to repeal it.
The researchers analyzed data from 273,000 patients under age 65, who were diagnosed from 2013 through 2014 with five kinds of cancer that can be detected via screening: breast, lung, colorectal, cervical and prostate tumors. The increases were small, but consistent, showing that for most of the cancers they studied, the rate of early detection increased by about a percentage point.