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Study: Child Neglect Lower in Medicaid Expansion States

Medicaid expansion can improve families' financial stability, one possible reason child neglect rates have decreased in expansion states. (gpointstudio/Adobe Stock)
Medicaid expansion can improve families' financial stability, one possible reason child neglect rates have decreased in expansion states. (gpointstudio/Adobe Stock)
July 31, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – As Idaho prepares to implement Medicaid expansion, research shows the health coverage should have added benefits for kids.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that rates of child neglect decreased for states that have decided to expand Medicaid. The study looked at child maltreatment data between 2010 and 2016.

Liz Woodruff, assistant director of the group Idaho Voices for Children, said access to health care can relieve stress from chronic illnesses and other health-related issues for parents.

"And importantly, they have financial stability," she said, "and that financial stability also reduces stress within a family, makes parents more available to be good parents to their kids, and I think that that's what the research shows."

In the study window, 31 states had expanded their Medicaid programs and 19 had not. Researchers also looked at physical abuse rates, but found no significant differences due to expansion.

When Idaho voters decided to expand the program last year, about 62,000 people were in the "coverage gap," making too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford insurance. Enrollment in Idaho's expanded program begins on Nov. 1.

Study author Emily Brown, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, said a few claims about the benefits of Medicaid expansion drove this research.

"The fact that Medicaid expansion was associated with improved mental-health outcomes for low-income parents in some studies, and also improved financial stability," she said. "And that was the reason that we thought, 'Hmm, maybe there's also an association with child maltreatment.'"

While Woodruff believes expanding Medicaid is good for Idaho, she's worried about state legislators' decision to apply work-reporting requirements.

"We have busy families with busy lives that are already in stressful situations," she said. "We have parents that are possibly working two jobs. So, to add an additional requirement where they have to show their paperwork every month could really mitigate some of the benefits I think this research bears out."

The study is online at jamanetwork.com.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID