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Medicaid expansion closing racial gap in GI cancer deaths



Racial disparities in cancer care have been reduced by Medicaid expansion, suggest new nationwide data.

Across the United States, minority patients with cancer often have worse outcomes than White patients, with Black patients more likely to die sooner.

But new data suggest that these racial disparities are lessening. They come from a cross-sectional cohort study of patients with gastrointestinal cancers and show that the gap in mortality rates was reduced in Medicaid expansion states, compared with nonexpansion states.

The results were particularly notable for Black patients, for whom there was a consistent increase in receiving therapy (chemotherapy or surgery) and a decrease in mortality from stomach, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer, the investigators commented.

The study was highlighted at a press briefing held in advance of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“The findings of this study provide a solid step for closing the gap, showing that the Medicaid expansion opportunity offered by the Affordable Care Act, which allows participating states to improve health care access for disadvantaged populations, results in better cancer outcomes and mitigation of racial disparities in cancer survival,” commented Julie Gralow, MD, chief medical officer and executive vice president of ASCO.

The study included 86,052 patients from the National Cancer Database who, from 2009 to 2019, were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, or stomach cancer. Just over 22,000 patients (25.7%) were Black; the remainder 63,943 (74.3%) were White.

In Medicaid expansion states, there was a greater absolute reduction in 2-year mortality among Black patients with pancreatic cancer of –11.8%, compared with nonexpansion states, at –2.4%, a difference-in-difference (DID) of –9.4%. Additionally, there was an increase in treatment with chemotherapy for patients with stage III-IV pancreatic cancer (4.5% for Black patients and 3.2% for White), compared with patients in nonexpansion states (0.8% for Black patients and 0.4% for White; DID, 3.7% for Black patients and DID, 2.7% for White).

“We found similar results in colorectal cancer, but this effect is primarily observed among the stage IV patients,” commented lead author Naveen Manisundaram, MD, a research fellow at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. “Black patients with advanced stage disease experienced a 12.6% reduction in mortality in expansion states.”

Among Black patients with stage IV colorectal cancer, there was an increase in rates of surgery in expansion states, compared with nonexpansion states (DID, 5.7%). However, there was no increase in treatment with chemotherapy (DID, 1%; P = .66).

Mortality rates for Black patients with stomach cancer also decreased. In expansion states, there was a –13% absolute decrease in mortality, compared with a –5.2% decrease in nonexpansion states.

The investigators noted that Medicaid coverage was a key component in access to care through the Affordable Care Act. About two-thirds (66.7%) of Black patients had Medicaid; 33.3% were uninsured. Coverage was similar among White patients; 64.1% had Medicaid and 35.9% were uninsured.

“Our study provides compelling data that show Medicaid expansion was associated with improvement in survival for both Black and White patients with gastrointestinal cancers. Additionally, it suggests that Medicaid expansion is one potential avenue to mitigate existing racial survival disparities among these patients,” Dr. Manisundaram concluded.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. One coauthor reported an advisory role with Medicaroid. Dr. Gralow has had a consulting or advisory role with Genentech and Roche.

A version of this article first appeared on

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