Medicaid at 50: A Look at the Long-Term Benefits of Childhood Medicaid

An emerging body of research underscores the significant role that Medicaid plays as a source of health coverage and financial protection for children and families—the benefits of which last through adulthood. New data highlight striking examples of the long-term effects of Medicaid—including better health, lower rates of mortality, better educational and economic outcomes, and many ways in which government recoups its investment in the long term. These findings underscore Medicaid’s role as not only a foundational source of health coverage for children, but also an investment in their future.

In light of these findings, the need to preserve and strengthen Medicaid for future generations of children has never been greater as the program reaches its fiftieth year. This paper highlights the mounting evidence underscoring the positive long-term effects of childhood Medicaid coverage that emerge later in life for adolescents and adults.

The Top Three Benefits

1. As the Medicaid program turns 50 a growing body of research provides evidence that children with Medicaid coverage become healthier adults.

Using longitudinal data from Medicaid expansions in the 1980s and 1990s, researchers found that children with access to Medicaid showed a 26 percentage point decline in the incidence of high blood pressure in adulthood. In addition, children with Medicaid had lower rates of hospitalizations and emergency room visits in adulthood—leading the government to recoup between 3 and 5 percent of the initial cost of Medicaid eligibility expansions in just one year. Children with Medicaid are also healthier adolescents, with lower rates of eating disorders, drinking, and mortality.

2. Medicaid eligibility expansions for children also lead to greater academic achievements.

Children who benefited from the Medicaid eligibility expansions were less likely to drop out of high school (9.7 percent decline) and more likely to graduate from college (5.5 percent increase).

3. Children with access to Medicaid had greater economic success as adults.

Two new studies indicate that these children had higher incomes later in life and were more likely to surpass their families’ economic status, making them less reliant on safety net programs and contributing to a strong government return on investment. Each additional year of Medicaid eligibility from birth to age 18 increased cumulative tax payments in adulthood of $186 per person (a 0.9 percent increase) and reduced receipt of the Earned Income Tax Credit receipts by $75 (a 2.4 percent decrease) by age 28. The increase in tax payments alone returned nearly one-third (32 cents on the dollar) of the initial cost of expanding childhood Medicaid by the time these children reached age 28, and 56 cents of each dollar by the time the children reached age 60. Medicaid-eligible children also had greater economic mobility, with a greater likelihood that their income exceeded that of their parents.