AJPHThe Affordable Care Act has helped 16.4 million previously uninsured Americans gain health coverage and research is starting to show how its implementation is creating a healthier U.S. According to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health, Medicaid coverage is linked to better access to outpatient physician care and greater control of chronic disease.

Researchers, led by Andrea S. Christopher, MD, of the Cambridge Health Alliance, used 1999–2012 National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys — administered by the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  to identify a nationally representative sample of civilian, non-institutionalized U.S. adults ages 18-64 with incomes below the federal poverty level. They compared outpatient visit frequency, awareness and control of chronic diseases between the uninsured and those who had Medicaid.

Results showed that adults with Medicaid were more likely to have at least one outpatient physician visit annually than those who were uninsured. Among poor people with evidence of hypertension, Medicaid coverage was associated with greater awareness and control of their condition. Medicaid coverage was also associated with awareness of being overweight.

“For states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, enrollment began only one year ago; several states are considering expanding Medicaid in the future. Thus, it will likely take several years before nationally representative data become available on the ACA’s impacts,” the study’s authors explain. “Our data suggests that states expanding Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act will observe improvement in outpatient access to care and chronic disease outcomes.”

Visit APHA’s new chronic disease topics page to find out public health’s role in combating diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other preventable diseases. And check out APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin’s commentary in Modern Healthcare, “Medicaid expansion improves the nation’s health.”

Learn more about this study and other new public health research by visiting the American Journal of Public Health online.