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Study Shows: Medicaid Improves Lives

By Deirdre Byrne, Director of Policy

As reported in last week’s New York Times, a ground-breaking recent study shows that Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income Americans, has significant benefits to those enrolled. This confirms what clinicians in the field who work with Medicaid populations see every day: Medicaid improves access to health care and quality of life of those enrolled.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Providence Health & Services conducted the first-of-its-kind analysis of 90,000 people who participated in a lottery for Medicaid in Oregon. The state operated the lottery with 10,000 possible slots for low-income adults, those with incomes below the federal poverty level ($10,400 for a single person and $21,200 for a family of four). After one year, researchers compared utilization, financial strain and perceived health of those who had access to Medicaid and those who did not.

Overall, researchers found that compared to people without insurance, those with Medicaid had better access to and used more health care. In addition, they were less likely to experience unpaid medical bills, or medical debt. Medicaid enrollees were more likely to report being in good physical health, and they were less likely to report feeling depressed. Specifically, the study found that those with Medicaid were:

  • 35 percent more likely to go to a clinic or see a doctor;
  • 15 percent more likely to use prescription drugs;
  • 25 percent more likely to say that their health was good or excellent; and
  • 40 percent less likely to say that their health had worsened in the past year.

While these findings are based on an adult population, Medicaid has long been known to improve access to care and use of services for children. Research has shown that children with Medicaid are more likely to have a usual source of care, lower frequency of unmet health needs and better access to medical services compared to poor children without health insurance.1

As states and the federal government make budget decisions that impact the future of the Medicaid program and the program’s ability to successfully ensure access to health care, it is important that policymakers balance the benefits of insuring 60 million people, including 30 million children, against short-term political gains. Want to weigh in on the current budget debate? Visit our advocacy action center.

1 Paul W. Newacheck, Michelle Pearl, Dana C. Hughes, Neal Halfon, The Role of Medicaid in Ensuring Children’s Access to Care, JAMA, November 25, 1998, Vol 280, No. 20.