July 10 (UPI) -- Medicaid expansion under the Healthy Michigan Plan has improved overall health among residents of poorer communities and people of color, according to the findings of a survey published Friday by JAMA Network Open.
After more than a year in the program, the percentage of plan members who reported "fair or poor health" declined to 27 percent from 31 percent, the researchers said.
In addition, survey respondents enrolled in the Michigan plan reported fewer days of "poor physical health" in the previous month after a year in the program -- six days, down from seven -- they said.
"With Medicaid expansion, the health of vulnerable populations is improving," Minal R. Patel, associate chair of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan, told UPI.
"Extending health coverage to more low-income people is also an important way to reduce health disparities in the U.S.," Patel said.
Patel and her colleagues surveyed nearly 2,400 Michigan plan beneficiaries twice -- once in 2016-2017 and again roughly one year later in 2017-2018.
The plan was implemented in 2014 as an alternative to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, which also is known as Obamacare.
While the ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility to include those with household incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the Michigan plan set the cap at 133 percent, according to Patel and her colleagues.
Still, the plan enrolled more than 675,000 Michigan residents since its inception, the researchers said.
Among the beneficiaries surveyed by Patel and her colleagues, non-Hispanic black respondents reported the most significant improvements in overall health, with the percentage of those in "fair or poor health" dropping to 26 percent from 32 percent after a year in the program, the researchers said.
In addition, the percentage of Michigan plan beneficiaries with household incomes up to 35 percent of the federal poverty level who reported fair or poor health declined to 32 percent from 38 percent, according to the researchers.
Plan beneficiaries with two or more chronic conditions reported fewer days of poor physical health in the previous month -- 8.5 days, down from 10 -- after more than a year in the program, the researchers said.
"Work from our team has shown economic benefit to the state of Michigan, with [Medicaid] expansion generating 30,000 new jobs every year, which yielded about $2.3 billion more in personal spending power each year for [state] residents," Patel said.
"Expansion also has been associated with gains in employment as well as growth in the labor market, and many hospitals also saw a major drop in uncompensated care."