Expansions of Medicaid for Pregnant Women Foster Healthy Development into Adulthood

By Sophia Duong and Tricia Brooks

In an earlier blog post, we discussed how cutting Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women is a short-sighted policy decision. There are a number of negative consequences that arise in the short-term for pregnant women and newborn babies. And now, we know that there could also be significant long-term consequences. A study from researchers at the University of Michigan, and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, finds that individuals whose mothers had Medicaid coverage during pregnancy grew up to be healthier adults.

Beginning in 1984 and continuing through the 1980’s, various federal and state policies expanded Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and children. To estimate the impact of these Medicaid expansions, researchers analyzed data for individuals born between 1979 and 1993. The results find that adults who had been in utero during the Medicaid expansions for pregnant women were less likely to be obese and that preventable hospitalizations were lower among this group.

More specifically, the results show that every 10 percentage point increase in eligibility for pregnant women results in a corresponding decrease in future health care costs for individuals who were in utero during the expansion period. Specific findings include:

  • 7% decrease in the likelihood of adult obesity
  • 9% fewer hospitalizations related to endocrine, nutritional, metabolic, and immunity disorders
  • 11% reduction in hospitalizations associated with diabetes and obesity

Obesity is a consistent risk factor in many chronic diseases today, including diabetes, so the fact that Medicaid coverage during pregnancy reduces the likelihood of obesity bodes well for continued health. Likewise, any reduction in preventable hospital visits is a good indicator of cost savings down the road. The authors state, “The observed reductions in obesity and hospitalizations for chronic illnesses like diabetes suggest that these cohorts are not only healthier today as a result of the Medicaid expansion, but that they are on a better lifetime health trajectory. As these cohorts age and approach mid-life when chronic illness is more prevalent, the observable effects of this program on their latent health, and the associated cost savings, may become even more pronounced.”

In addition to Maryland and Ohio, we have heard that Connecticut is also contemplating a cut back in eligibility for pregnant women. Oklahoma and Louisiana already cut their eligibility levels. Given the findings of this study, we can’t help but ask, will states regret such decisions 30 years down the road? Saving money today only to stoke our country’s persisting problems of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions is another example of how cutting Medicaid for pregnant women is penny wise and pound foolish.

Tricia Brooks is a Research Professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families