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Study Finds Medicaid a Plus for the Poor

It has long been debated whether or not state Medicaid programs had any effect on the health of the low-income population that it serves. The differences between Medicaid beneficiaries and the indigent populations have made it difficult to compare the two groups. A new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled, “The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment: Evidence from the First Year,” is the first of its kind to provide researchers with some answers.

In 2008, Oregon’s Medicaid program afforded researchers a unique opportunity when the state was looking to expand its public insurance program by 10,000 people. Nearly 90,000 potential enrollees applied and a lottery was held to determine who would be chosen. This situation provided researchers with an avenue to segment this population into a study group (those who applied and were chosen to enroll), and a comparison group (those who applied and were not chosen to enroll) to see if Medicaid coverage correlated with better health outcomes and less financial burden.

Some interesting results of Medicaid recipients in comparison to those un-enrolled include:
– 35% increase in likelihood of seeking outpatient care
– 15% increase in prescription drugs
– 25% more likely to report good/excellent health
– 40% less likely to say health had worsened in the past year than those without insurance
– Higher rates of preventive screening, having a regular primary care office or clinic, and having a regular physician
– 25% increase in health care expenditures

This study shows that public insurance does play a role in improving the health of its beneficiaries. With Medicaid expansion quickly approaching in 2014, can California mirror Oregon’s successes in spite of a limited budget? How will the state handle the new influx of enrollees? What role will safety net providers play with expansion?