The Medicaid program provides health coverage for more than one out of six Americans, including many of the poorest and most medically vulnerable populations. On January 1, 2019, the Commonwealth of Virginia expanded Medicaid coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act. This will expand health insurance coverage to about 400,000 low income adults with family incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Drs. Peter Cunningham and Andrew Barnes, both faculty in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy (HBP), are leading an evaluation of the Virginia Medicaid expansion along with faculty in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health. Using surveys of new members, primary care physicians, as well as administrative claims data, the evaluation is assessing the impact of the Medicaid expansion on health insurance coverage of Virginians, access to behavioral and physical health services, and improvements in health outcomes.

The evaluation of Medicaid expansion is one of several ongoing evaluations of state Medicaid programs. Drs. Cunningham and Barnes are leading evaluations of the Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services program (ARTS), a major reform and expansion of addiction treatment services in the Medicaid program. They are also leading an evaluation of Commonwealth Coordinated Care Plus, a managed long-term services and support program designed to improve health and long-term care services for Medicaid enrollees who are elderly or have complex health conditions.

Through these evaluations, HBP has established a strong partnership with the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, the state agency that oversees the Medicaid program. This partnership has allowed HBP to become the leader in the commonwealth for assessing state Medicaid programs and policy.

Drs. Cunningham and Barnes are actively collaborating with state-university partnerships in nine other states on a project to examine differences across state Medicaid programs in the prevalence and treatment of substance use disorders, funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse. Other projects related to these evaluations are funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Graduate Research Assistants from the Health Care Policy Research doctoral program are active participants in the state Medicaid evaluations. In addition to assisting and leading research tasks, they participate in discussions with state Medicaid officials on how research can inform the health care policy priorities of the state. Students involved with the evaluations have presented their research at numerous academic conferences, including AcademyHealth, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, and the Addiction Health Services Research conference.

“Very few students have the opportunity to directly inform state health policy while they are pursuing their doctoral degree,” according to Dr. Cunningham. “The combination of rigorous training and practical experience really gives our students an edge as they pursue careers in health care policy research.”