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Adults with Medicaid feel healthier than those with no insurance, a unique study finds

July 07, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Adults with Medicaid use more health services, including preventive services, than those without insurance. The new study was able to compare those with Medicaid with a control group, a rare experimental advantage in social science research.
Adults with Medicaid use more health services, including preventive services,… (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles…)

Adults with Medicaid use more medical services, have less financial stress related to health and, overall, feel healthier than those without insurance. So says a first-of-its-kind study on the effectiveness of the government insurance plan. 

The findings make intuitive sense, yet the study is the first to directly compare similar adults with Medicaid and with no insurance at all. Hundreds of other studies have examined differences between those with and without insurance, but are always limited in conclusion by the inherent differences in the two groups, such as income and employment.

Here's how the findings came to be. In 2008, when the state of Oregon had 90,000 applicants for Medicaid and only 10,000 slots, the state used a lottery to allocate health insurance — and a team of economists took the rare opportunity to compare adults with and without the government-provided insurance.

The team reported its findings from the first year of the experiment in a working paper released Thursday by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Compared with the adults without health insurance, researchers found that the new Medicaid recipients:

—Were 30% more likely to have a hospital admission

—Were 15% more likely to take prescription drugs

—Were 35% more likely to have an outpatient visit

—Might have visited the emergency room more frequently, but researchers couldn’t tell from the estimates

—Were 25% less likely to have an unpaid medical bill sent to a collection agency

—Were 20% less likely to have out-of-pocket medical expenditures

—Were more likely to use preventive services such as cholesterol and diabetes tests, mammograms and pap tests.

—Reported being physically and mentally healthier 

Economist Jonathan Skinner from Dartmouth College, who was not involved in the research, said in a news release from MIT (the study co-authors were from MIT):

“This is a landmark study that for the first time provides a reliable measure of how health insurance affects health care and well-being,” adding that it “speaks to the potential bonus arising from an expansion of health insurance coverage in the U.S.”

As the New York Times notes, how the poor would use health insurance has been a central question in the health insurance debate. No longer is the dialogue simply speculative.

The new study’s results will likely inform the predictions of what will happen in 2014, when millions of adults just above the poverty line will be eligible for Medicaid.

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