Newsflash: Medicaid amounts to more than just $$$

Posted July, 7 2011 by arianne

An interesting new study is now out by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).  The study took the opportunity presented by a small Medicaid expansion that Oregon underwent in 2008.  At that time, the state decided it was able to add 10,000 more enrollees.  However, nearly 90,000 people actually applied.

The 10,000 that the state was able to cover were randomly selected from the pool, allowing researches to compare the differences between both groups of Medicaid-eligible people:  those that were randomly selected to enroll in the program, and those that were not.

Contrary to what House Republicans may want to hear, the study’s findings did not harp on how much money the federal government was able to save by not covering the other 80,000 people.

Instead, it found that the very presence of Medicaid greatly improved health behaviors and financial stability.  Specifically, researches found that people with Medicaid were:

  • 35% more likely to see a doctor or go to a clinic when they felt ill
  • 15% more likely to use prescription drugs
  • 30% more likely to be admitted to a hospital
  • 60% more likely to have mammograms (women)
  • 20% more likely to have their cholesterol checked
  • 55% more likely to have a regular doctor
  • 25% more likely to say that their health was good or excellent
  • 40% less likely to say that their health had worsened in the past year
  • 25% less likely to have an unpaid bill sent to collections
  • 40% less likely to borrow money or fail to pay other bills due to medical bills

Now, that is food for thought.  Particularly in light of the ongoing federal deficit negotiations, where both Medicaid and Medicare remain on the chopping block.  To put it into perspective, cutting Medicaid may save the federal government $100 billion over the next 10 years, but at what cost?

That many more people who need help but are not able get it will only mean that many more people postponing care, skipping preventative care visits, not taking their prescription drugs or seeking treatment when they are ill.  What will the cumulative cost be of the detriment to public health?  And further, what will the cost of the ripple effect be? Unpaid bills, higher debts, lost wages?  It will remain to be seen.

The NBER study, titled “The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment: Evidence from the First Year,” is available on their website (Note: unless you are a subscriber, you may need to pay a $5 fee to download the pdf.  Sorry – I don’t make the rules!

Click here to read coverage from the New York Times.

Click here to read coverage from The Oregonian.