Medicaid Expansion: A Demographic Portrait

These are the faces of Medicaid expansion in Colorado:

  • A 30-year-old man, single and making about $15,000 a year, working at a coffee shop after getting laid off from his entry-level management job.
  • A young couple, both college graduates, living on the wife’s $25,000 salary from a tech start-up while her husband stays home with their two small children.  He does free-lance graphic design work that brings in another $4,000 or so.
  • A 60-year old widow, with three grown children, working part-time in a day care center for the $12,000-a-year paycheck that helps her make ends meet.

Not one of these Coloradans has health insurance. All would be eligible to be covered by Medicaid if Colorado expands eligibility levels.

The Colorado Health Institute today published a demographic portrait of the Coloradans who would become newly eligible for Medicaid coverage if the state decides to expand the program. The information, based on data from the Colorado Health Access Survey, is the most detailed look yet at this group.

Expanding Medicaid, required under the Affordable Care Act, was made optional for states by the U.S. Supreme Court. Colorado’s legislature is debating the expansion. It has passed the Senate, mostly on a party-line vote, and is in the House of Representatives, where it is scheduled to be heard by the Public Health Care and Human Services Committee next Tuesday.

Understanding this population will give lawmakers a better understanding of the impact that expanding Medicaid would have on their constituents.

Overall, about one of six Coloradans between the ages of 19 and 64 would become newly eligible for Medicaid. Working-age adults, who historically have not had access to Medicaid, would benefit most. They are broken down into two primary groups – adults without dependent children and parents.

The Colorado Health Institute anticipates about half of the newly eligible population would actually enroll.

Here’s a high-level look at our findings, which show the newly eligible population would be:

  • Younger than the general Colorado population – although one if five of the newly eligible adults without dependent children are between the ages of 55 and 64.
  • More male than current Medicaid clients – although nearly two of three newly eligible parents are female.
  • About 70 percent white – although Hispanics are disproportionately represented compared to the state’s population.
  • Less educated than the population as a whole – although 59 percent have attended at least some college.
  • Generally in worse health. Still, about half of both the parents and the adults without dependent children say their health is excellent or very good.
  • Likely to be employed, with nearly half of the adults without dependent children and nearly 70 percent of the parents indicating they have jobs.

So, why do these characteristics matter?

Studies have shown that having health insurance helps ensure that people can see a doctor when they get sick – or even when they need preventive care.

This new report from the Colorado Health Institute sheds light on the Coloradans who would be eligible for health insurance – and by extension, the ability to receive needed medical care –  if Medicaid is expanded.

Christina Roman, Colorado School of Public Health master’s degree candidate, is an intern at CHI.