Medicaid Study Touts Program's Benefits

Medicaid recipients are more likely to take care of their health and less likely to have trouble paying their medical bills than the uninsured, according to the first large-scale study of the program.

The report, released Thursday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds that enrolling in Medicaid makes low-income people 30 percent more likely to visit the hospital, 15 percent more likely to take prescription medications, and significantly less likely to face out-of-pocket medical expenses or fail to pay other bills because of medical debt. Medicaid recipients also reported a 32 percent increase in their overall happiness level.

“There has been a lot of genuine uncertainty about whether it makes a difference when you give people Medicaid,” Amy Finkelstein, an MIT professor and one of the authors of the report, said in a statement. “The short answer from our study is that it does.”

The low-income health insurance program is facing massive cuts from the federal government and cash-strapped states looking to balance their budgets, and until now, there had been no objective study proving the effectiveness the Medicaid program. But a situation arose in Oregon that allowed researchers to compare a group of Medicaid recipients to a group of those who were randomly assigned to go without it, and the results showed that Medicaid significantly improves poor people's lives.

“It’s obviously a really important paper,” James Smith, an economist at the RAND Corporation, told the New York Times. “It is going to be a classic.”