TUESDAY, Feb. 11, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- There was a steep drop in the number of low-income people without health insurance in so-called Diabetes Belt states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, a new study shows.
The Diabetes Belt is a swath of 644 U.S. counties across 15 southeastern states that have high diabetes rates.
More than 11% of adults in the Diabetes Belt have the condition, compared with 8.5% outside the belt. It's believed that diabetes is a major factor in shorter life expectancy.
"States that expanded Medicaid achieved an absolute reduction of 20 percentage points in uninsured rates, while states that did not achieved 13% reduction," the researchers reported.
The study examined uninsured rates among adults aged 64 or younger with household incomes equal to or less than 138% percent of the federal poverty line.
In 2012, about 39% of people in the Diabetes Belt were uninsured, compared with nearly 34% outside the belt. Those rates fell to 13% and 15%, respectively, in 2016 following implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which allowed states to expand residents' access to Medicaid.
By 2016, uninsured rates were 15% higher in states that had not expanded Medicaid, according to the University of Virginia study published Feb. 4 in the journal Diabetes Care.
When the investigators included all income levels in their analysis, they found a 4.8% overall decline in the uninsured rate in the Diabetes Belt after Medicaid expansion.
"With increased access to care, patients are more likely to receive the care they need to prevent diabetes or at least slow the progression of the disease," said researcher Jennifer Lobo, from the department of public health sciences at the University of Virginia.
"Addressing complications of diabetes as early as possible through regular preventive care can greatly improve quality of life," Lobo added in a university news release.
"We hope that our findings encourage policy makers to maintain and expand policies that increase health insurance coverage, particularly in areas like the Diabetes Belt, which have a greater prevalence of the disease," Lobo said.
"Whether increased insurance coverage is enough to narrow the gaps in diabetes prevalence between the Diabetes Belt and the rest of the country is yet to be seen, but one thing is clear -- the Diabetes Belt is an area that needs more attention by policy makers," she added.
The Harvard School of Public Health has more on diabetes prevention.