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Health Insurance Leads to Healthier Americans

A new study on the important role Medicaid plays in the lives of American families.

There’s a new study out today that confirms just how important health insurance and the Medicaid program really are. The study is already making waves with Ezra Klein calling it, “the most important health-care policy experiment since the 1970s.” Here’s how it worked:

In 2008, Oregon expanded Medicaid eligibility to a group of low-income, uninsured adults. But at that time, more people were eligible for Oregon’s Medicaid program than the state could afford, so they set up a lottery to determine who would receive coverage.

The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment looked at what happened to the people who won the lottery and received coverage through Medicaid compared to those who did not. And the results are even more positive than we anticipated. The study found that:

  • Providing these Americans with health insurance led to a significant increase in the use of critical preventive services. For example, women with coverage were 60% more likely to get mammograms and 20% more likely to have their cholesterol monitored.
  • Those with insurance were 70% more likely to regularly visit their primary care doctor.
  • People who gained coverage saw sizable improvements in their health and well-being.

Those with insurance saw greater financial security and savings for providers. According to the report, “Insurance decreased the probability of having an unpaid medical bill sent to a collection agency by 25% -- which also benefits health care providers since the vast majority of such debts are never paid.”

In addition to the positive effects of insurance for those covered, the study also found good news for States that expand Medicaid coverage.  Researchers found that:

  • The costs of a Medicaid expansion, in terms of increased health expenditures, are considerably smaller than prior research has suggested.
  • Improving access to public insurance for uninsured people did not lead to subsequent reductions in private insurance coverage.   

Today, our country is having an important debate about the future of Medicaid. President Obama has proposed a framework that will strengthen Medicaid, make it more efficient and continue to provide services and support to the millions of children, families, seniors and pregnant women who depend on Medicaid every day.

In contrast, Republicans have offered a plan to turn Medicaid into a dangerously underfunded block grant. Under their plan, states would get one-third less for Medicaid by 2021. 15 million people could be left without coverage.

We know – and today’s study confirms – that Medicaid is making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans and the President will continue to fight to strengthen Medicaid.

Sherry Glied is HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation