Oregon Study: Another Medicaid Expansion Red Flag

HHS logo

Results from the second year of an Oregon Medicaid study, released May 1 by The New England Journal of Medicine, represent perhaps the clearest evidence to date that Medicaid coverage does not improve patient health. The report comes as Ohio and other states continue debating whether to expand the entitlement program in order to claim billions in promised Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) funding.

“This randomized, controlled study showed that Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years, but it did increase use of health care services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain,” the study’s authors wrote in a summary of their latest findings.

“In 2008, Oregon expanded its Medicaid program, but because the state could not cover everybody, lawmakers opened up a lottery that randomly drew 30,000 names from a waiting list of almost 90,000 and allowed them to apply for the program,” Philip Klein explained at The Examiner. “This created a unique opportunity for health researchers, ultimately allowing them to compare the health outcomes of 6,387 low-income adults who were able to enroll in the program with 5,842 who were not selected.”

Klein continued, “Contrary to liberal assumptions, researchers found that those who enrolled in Medicaid spent a lot more on medical care than those who weren’t able to enroll, but didn’t significantly improve their health outcomes.”

“Another interesting finding was that though medical spending increased among Medicaid enrollees due to more prescription drug usage and doctors’ visits, the study ‘did not find significant changes in visits to the emergency department or hospital admissions.’ This undercuts another favorite talking point of liberals, which is that expanding insurance actually saves money by reducing costly emergency room visits,” Klein added.

Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Senior Fellow Avik Roy, writing at Forbes, noted that these results came despite the fact that Oregon’s Medicaid program pays a higher rate for services than the national average.

“Because Oregon’s Medicaid program pays more, the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries have relatively better access to doctors. While 21 percent of Oregon physicians won’t take new Medicaid patients—an unacceptably high number—the national average is even worse: 31 percent,” Roy wrote.

In 2011, 28 percent of Ohio’s office-based physicians refused to accept new Medicaid patients.

Roy pointed out that “every state will still have to spend a considerable sum of its own money to sign onto the Medicaid expansion.”

“At a time when middle-income Americans are themselves being squeezed by Obamacare’s hikes to health insurance premiums, it is positively unethical to take money from them in order to fund a broken program that doesn’t improve health outcomes,” he wrote.

Based on estimates from the left-leaning Urban Institute, Ohio’s annual Medicaid costs would increase by over $500 million by 2021 if the Buckeye State were to adopt the PPACA Medicaid expansion.

“There is no way to spin these results as anything but a rebuke to those who are pushing states to expand Medicaid,” Cato Institute director of health policy studies Michael Cannon wrote. “The Obama administration has been trying to convince states to throw more than a trillion additional taxpayer dollars at Medicaid by participating in the expansion, when the best-designed research available cannot find any evidence that it improves the physical health of enrollees.”

There may be no way to twist the Oregon Medicaid study’s findings into good news for Medicaid expansion, but that doesn’t mean the legacy press won’t try. On May 2, The Columbus Dispatch ran an Associated Press story titled “Medicaid improves users’ mental health” which began, “If you’re uninsured, getting on Medicaid clearly improves your mental health, but it doesn’t quickly make much difference in physical conditions such as high blood pressure.”

Leave a Reply