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Expanding Medicaid helped vastly improve the health of Colorado's economy, a new study found.

Colorado lawmakers' decision to expand the health-care program helped create 31,074 jobs while spurring $3.8 billion in economic activity since 2014, according to the study, which was commissioned by the Colorado Health Foundation.

Expansion of the state-run, federally funded program also helped boost annual household earnings by $643, the study found.

The results left study leaders "a bit surprised," said Charlie Brown, director of the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University, which prepared the study.

It outperformed a similar study three years ago, which tried to forecast the impact of Medicaid's expansion in 2014 through the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

"From a purely economic point of view, I think it tends to make a lot of sense" to expand Medicaid, Brown said.

Before 2014, Medicaid was typically only available to poor children, pregnant women and people with disabilities.

The health law, however, sought to expand Medicaid across the nation to everyone earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That included individuals earning slightly more than $16,000 a year and a family of four earning nearly $33,500.

A 2012 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, allowed states the option of expanding those benefits. Colorado ranks among roughly 30 states to do so.

The study examined the federal funding that fueled Medicaid's expansion in Colorado - first by looking at how the money was spent by health-care providers. Then it considered the increased demand for medical supplies that followed.

Study leaders reasoned that spending led to higher employment levels in those sectors and higher incomes, leading to greater spending at restaurants and on consumer goods.

Further, the study projected Colorado would add 43,018 jobs and economic activity would jump by $8.5 billion by the fiscal year ending June 30, 2035, and that average household incomes would rise $1,033 by that year because of Medicaid's expansion.

"It tells us that we've added to economic activity in the state that's been a stimulus for Colorado residents," Brown said.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

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