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.”