A new study analyzing the impact of Medicaid shows that those who register with the program have better overall health and financial security. The first of its kind, the findings are based on a rigorously controlled assessment that uses a design similar to those used to test new drugs.
While the findings may seem obvious to some, they run counter to a widespread negative perception of Medicaid — both amongst those who might use it, and amongst health economists and policy makers who have long questioned the efficacy of providing health insurance to the poor.
Medicaid, a federal-state program for low-income and severely disabled people, currently covers almost 60 million Americans. Come 2014, it will add nearly half of the 30 million+ uninsured people gaining coverage under the new health care law. Because Medicaid pays doctors far less than Medicare and private insurance, some have questioned whether the program’s coverage will translate into quality medical care.
The study, led by economists at Harvard and MIT and released Thursday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that having Medicaid significantly increased the chances that people will perceive their health as being good to excellent, while decreasing the likelihood that they would have to borrow money or fail to pay bills due to medical expenses.
“The bottom line is that Medicaid really matters in people’s lives,” said MIT economist Amy Finkelstein, the report’s head author.”There is a large concern out there about whether Medicaid actually makes a difference, and now we actually have evidence.”
The evaluation compared 10,000 winners of an Oregon state-sponsored Medicaid lottery with a group of those who applied but weren’t selected and remained uninsured. Because of its use of random selection, the study has been praised as highly valid.
The study found that Medicaid enrollees were 70 percent more likely to have a regular medical office or clinic for basic care and 55 percent more likely to have a personal doctor. Those with Medicaid were also more likely to get preventive care, such as mammograms and cholesterol screening.