Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The Affordable Care Act opened a pathway to health insurance for many people with diabetes who were previously denied coverage, a new study says.
The number of older people with diabetes who got access to health coverage shot up two years after the launch of the ACA, according to research published Thursday in American Journal of Public Health.
"From the point of view of health insurance companies, people with diabetes tend to be expensive to cover, especially as they become older and develop more complications," Mary A. M. Rogers, a researcher at the University of Michigan medical school, said in a press release. "These findings suggest that the Affordable Care Act helped people with diabetes obtain health insurance, especially those working-age adults in their 40s and 50s."
People in their 50s saw the sharpest increases, with a 20 percent increase for people with type 1 diabetes and 15 percent with type 2. The 40-plus community also got a bump in coverage, with a 10 percent increase for people with type 1 and a 3 percent increase for people with type 2.
Prior to passage of the ACA, often referred to as Obamacare, insurers could deny coverage to people with both conditions. Once the law went into effect, it forced insurers to provide coverage to anyone with a preexisting condition.
"For people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, having insurance coverage can mean the difference between being able to afford crucial medications such as insulin, or getting sick and requiring emergency care," said Renuka Tipirneni, a researcher at the University of Michigan medical school and study senior author.
By 2014, average health-related spending for people with diabetes was over $10,000 higher than for people without the condition, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.
The ACA had a particularly strong impact on people with illnesses that stemmed from diabetes. About one-third of people with complications like damage to their nerves, eyes or kidneys got coverage after 2014.
A current lawsuit, however, could take all of that away. Last year, the Justice Department said it wouldn't defend the provision that protects preexisting conditions if the entire law was struck down in court.
In December, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the ACA was unconstitutional, paving the way for a long legal battle that could dismantle the law and take with it protections for preexisting conditions.
"As a physician, I know how important it is for patients with diabetes and other chronic health conditions to be able to take their medications and get regular check-ups-services made possible by affordable health insurance coverage" Tipirneni said.