Boston—Pharmacists have been busy filling new prescriptions in states that expanded Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a new study suggests.

In fact, according to the research presented recently at the Society of General Internal Medicine 2017 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, the number of prescriptions received by adults using Medicaid coverage increased by 19% in states with expanded Medicaid during the first year and a half of ACA, compared with states that had not.

As of this month, 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid coverage, and 19 states have not.

A study team led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers found that the greatest increases were for medications to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, as well as for birth control.

“We knew the Medicaid expansion had improved access to care, but this study gives us much more detail about what that really means for patient care,” explained co-author Benjamin Sommers, MD, PhD, associate professor of health policy and economics. “Medications for conditions like diabetes and heart disease can be life-savers.”

Results of the research were released earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

For the study, researchers analyzed pharmacy transaction data from 2013 to 2015. The number of prescriptions filled in expansion versus nonexpansion states before and after the ACA expansion went into effect was compared, as was the source of insurance for each prescription.

Results indicate that, during the first year and a half of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, medications used for treating diabetes accounted for the largest growth among all drug classes, rising 24%. Also showing significant increases were contraceptives (22%), cardiovascular drugs (21%), and mental health drugs (19%).

Study authors point out that, within the states that expanded Medicaid, increases in prescription-drug utilization were greater where there had been higher rates of uninsured people prior to the ACA.

The jump in prescription-drug utilization also was steeper in areas with larger Hispanic and black populations, with researchers suggesting Medicaid expansion could be reducing ethnic and racial disparities in access to medications.
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