"First Of Its Kind" Study Shows Medicaid Provides Health And Financial Benefits To Poor

July 07, 2011 2:11 pm ET — Meredith Kormes

A new study published today by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that when poor people receive health insurance coverage, i.e. Medicaid, they have higher health care utilization, lower out-of-pocket medical expenditures and medical debt, and better self-reported physical and mental health than those with no insurance.

Austin Frakt rounds up some of the results that have been reported, that compared to the uninsured group, those in the Medicaid group:

  • received 30% more hospital care,
  • received 35% more outpatient care,
  • were 15% more like to use prescription drugs,
  • received 60% more mammograms,
  • received 20% more cholesterol checks,
  • were 15% more likely to have had a blood tested for high blood sugar or diabetes,
  • were 45% more likely to have had a pap test within the last year (for women),
  • had lower out-of-pocket medical expenditures and medical debt,
  • had a 40% lower probability of needing to borrow money or skip payment on other bills because of medical expenses,
  • incurred $778 more in spending on health care in one year, a 25% increase over the uninsured mean spending level,
  • were 25% percent more likely to report themselves in "good" or "excellent" health,
  • were 70% more likely to have a usual source of care,
  • were 55% more likely to see the same doctor over time,
  • reported better physical and mental health,
  • were 10% percent less likely to screen positive for depression.

While the results may seem obvious to many, this is not the story that Republicans and the conservative media have been telling. In February, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) claimed that people on Medicaid are worse off than those that have no insurance. In March, the Wall Street Journal pushed several studies that claim "Medicaid is worse than no insurance at all." And in June, the Washington Times hyped a study that claimed Medicaid patients were more likely to die than the uninsured. The issue is that, as Jonathan Cohn wrote, the studies did not account for "underlying differences in the groups beings studied," and the results actually "suggest[ed] correlation, not causation."

So what makes the NBER study the "first study of its kind" is that participants were randomly selected, something only possible because of the economic situation in Oregon, where the study was conducted. As the New York Times wrote, the state "was running out of money [and] had to choose some people to get insurance and exclude others, providing groups for comparison." The situation in Oregon "provided researchers a unique opportunity" to create a "randomized controlled trial" which, as NPR noted, is "the gold standard in medical and scientific research," and something the previous studies were unable to do.

It is unlikely that conservatives will end their assault on Medicaid because of this study, despite its sound design and "distinctly bipartisan flavor." One can only hope that part two of this study, where researchers are conducting personal interviews and medical tests with 12,000 participants, will offer even more data to back up the health benefits of having Medicaid.