Diabetes — it’s been called a national epidemic, linked to disability, blindness, even premature death. National medical costs for diabetes alone surpass $245 billion a year, not to mention the suffering of millions across America.

But there’s good news in Connecticut and 25 other states that expanded Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — the historic national health care reform legislation frequently dubbed “Obamacare.”

As the New York Times recently reported, more people are being diagnosed with diabetes — and that’s actually good news on an important level. Why? Connecticut’s health care system diagnosing more cases means that more people are getting preventive and ongoing treatment — many for the first time. That means healthier lives and reduced costs all around. Less acute care and hospitalization needed, fewer amputations and less risk of vision loss — simply put, a healthier state.

It wouldn’t be happening without Connecticut’s best-in-the-nation implementation of the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion. Under the Malloy-Wyman administration, Connecticut has become a national leader on many fronts, including innovative program structure, use of data analytics, a groundbreaking Person-Centered Medical Home initiative, and best-in-nation access to dental care.

As we mark the Affordable Care Act’s fifth anniversary, we are also nearing the 50th anniversary of Medicaid itself. It’s a great time to take stock of where are in Connecticut’s health care system transformation.

Connecticut Medicaid, also known as HUSKY Health, is administered by the Department of Social Services — working hand in glove with our state agency partners and thousands of medical providers across the state.

And the results for Connecticut residents are remarkable.

In HUSKY Health alone, we’re now covering more than 700,000 children, elders, people with disabilities, and other adults with comprehensive medical, behavioral health, dental, pharmacy, and non-emergency medical transportation services.

HUSKY Health is applying a comprehensive approach to reform that includes:

• enhanced access to primary care through rate increases and Person-Centered Medical Homes;

• integration of medical, behavioral health, and long-term services/supports;

• increasing home- and community-based services for older adults and persons with disabilities, and;

• expanding health information technology.

In line with these advances, ACA has brought positive impacts, both nationally and in Connecticut. News coverage on the ACA has cited studies demonstrating that in states that have taken advantage of ACA Medicaid eligibility expansion, such as Connecticut, it has been possible to identify and support individuals with type 2 diabetes earlier. This is an advantage because early engagement of people with diabetes and other chronic conditions helps to prevent inappropriate use of the emergency room, as well as hospital admissions.

Access to medical coverage gives people more financial security from the catastrophic costs of a serious health condition, tends to improve mental health, and enables access to preventative benefits, including primary care and dental services. And under the ACA, many more people than ever before are getting health care coverage for the first time — driving down overall costs for everyone. In fact, HUSKY Health is doing great work in controlling administrative costs and per-member expenditures.

All of this means that Connecticut’s approach to health care coverage and delivery — already a national model — is moving even further in the right direction. The ACA has provided HUSKY Health with important new resources. The federal law has permitted Connecticut Medicaid to cover new services, including tobacco cessation, while expanding the highly successful Money Follows the Person program, which has supported over 2,600 individuals in transitioning from nursing facilities to living in the community.

The results are clear — under the ACA and with Access Health CT, Medicaid/HUSKY Health is keeping more of Connecticut’s citizens healthier, helping more live their lives in their homes and communities and not in institutions, while helping those who suffer with chronic medical and behavioral illnesses live fuller and more productive lives.

All of this while holding the line on member costs when compared to other states’ Medicaid programs. Not a bad record after five years of the ACA — let’s see what we can all accomplish in the next five.

Kate McEvoy, Esq., is Director of the Division of Health Services (Medicaid Director) at the Department of Social Services. Dr. Robert W. Zavoski serves as the department’s Medical Director.

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