One of the most discouraging comments that often gets made – usually by well-off politicians – during debates on health care is that “there are no really uninsured people – anyone can just go to the emergency room or free clinic and get care.” As anyone who has spent time in an ER or clinic knows, people who do often use the ER or free clinics for care are sicker and have more serious problems than the general public. This just reflects the fact, confirmed by years of research, that people without health insurance are sicker than people who have coverage.
Now a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research adds another important dimension to this debate – what happens to people when they get Medicaid health coverage? Do they actually have better lives than those who don’t? The answer is unequivocally yes. A study like this hasn’t been done before but a unique situation in Oregon where the state chose people for expanded Medicaid coverage using a lottery provided an opportunity.
In the study, the people who randomly got Medicaid saw doctors more and got much more preventive care like mammograms, had lower levels of medical debt and copay costs, and, most importantly, had better reported physical and mental health than the other group. So, expanding Medicaid – as the new national health care law is scheduled to do – will make a huge difference in people’s lives for the better.