The Racial Divide in State Medicaid Expansions

J Health Polit Policy Law. 2017 Jun;42(3):539-572. doi: 10.1215/03616878-3802977. Epub 2017 Feb 17.


This study considers five important questions related to the role of race in state-level public support for the Medicaid expansion: (1) whether public support for the Medicaid expansion varies across the American states; (2) whether public support is positively related to state adoption; (3) whether this support is racialized; (4) whether, if racialized, there is evidence of more state responsiveness to white support than to nonwhite (black and/or Latino) support; and (5) does the size of the nonwhite population matter more when white support is relatively low? Our findings suggest that while public support for the Medicaid expansion is high at the state level, especially in comparison to public support for the ACA, there are important variations across the states. Although overall public support is positively related to state adoption, we find that public support for the Medicaid expansion is racialized in two ways. First, there are large differences in support levels by race; and second, state adoption decisions are positively related to white opinion and do not respond to nonwhite support levels. Most importantly, there is evidence that when the size of the black population increases and white support levels are relatively low, the state is significantly less likely to expand the Medicaid program. Our discussion highlights the democratic deficits and racial bias at the state level around this important coverage policy.

Keywords: health reform; public opinion; race; state Medicaid expansion.

MeSH terms

  • Blacks / statistics & numerical data
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Medicaid / statistics & numerical data*
  • Policy*
  • Racial Groups*
  • State Government*
  • United States
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data