New Study Shows Significant Benefits for Medicaid Expansion, Contrary to Opponents’ Claims

Opponents of Medicaid expansion are misrepresenting the findings of a new study to argue that Georgia and other states shouldn’t extend this vital health coverage to more people without health insurance.

Contrary to what some in the anti-expansion camp argue, the study – which updates findings from an earlier look at how Medicaid benefited some previously uninsured people in Oregon – actually highlights some fantastic successes. According to one of the authors of the study, the new round of findings actually “discredit” the idea that Medicaid is not good insurance.  

For example, the study found that the newly insured Oregonians were more likely to get a variety of health care services, including preventive care, which could make them healthier down the road and less likely to need more expensive treatment for long-neglected conditions.

In addition, the study shows quite clearly the many ways in which Medicaid improves financial security for low-income individuals. Catastrophic out-of-pocket costs were almost completely eliminated and many saw their medical debts decline significantly. This is precisely the way insurance is supposed to work.

The researchers found significant improvements in diagnosing depression and diabetes among the group they studied – both costly and potentially debilitating conditions that can be more expensive to treat the longer they are ignored. Depression among the group fell by 30 percent.

Instead of looking at all of the study’s findings, opponents of Medicaid expansion have latched on to the one that no “statistically significant” improvements were found in a handful of medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, over two-years. Despite the claims of the critics, the lack of statistical proof that outcomes improved is not the same as proof of Medicaid’s ineffectiveness. On the contrary, the substantial benefits the study highlights the many arguments in favor of expansion, even if some findings also motivate improvements to the quality of health care people receive which will enable Medicaid to be more effective than it already is.

Dr. Heidi Allen, part of the research team working on the Oregon study, was one of the speakers at a GBPI forum last fall on Medicaid expansion. Here’s what she had to say when I asked her about how the latest study is being used by some to disparage Medicaid:      

Health insurance is a financial product, meant to protect people from catastrophic financial harm because our need for medical care can be unpredictable – this assures an unexpected trip to the emergency room won’t compete with necessities, such as rent or food.  For people with low incomes, health insurance also reduces the financial barriers to care, providing access to preventative services and a doctor when we are ill.  On both counts, Medicaid performed very well. Some have argued that Medicaid isn’t very good insurance – our study findings discredit that claim.  That said, knowing what is working well and what isn’t can give states implementing the ACA opportunities to innovate and our findings suggest there is room for improvement.

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