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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The results are in: Medicaid works

Ron Pollack

Executive Director

For the past several months, Republican budget plan after Republican budget plan has practically made a sport out of attempting to gut the Medicaid program.

They’ve gone out on a limb to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest among us, all while undermining programs that help millions of Americans every single day.

Consumer advocacy groups like Families USA have fought tooth and nail against these cuts because we recognize that Medicaid is a vital program for those who would otherwise not have access to affordable health care.

The Medicaid program is designed to help the most vulnerable in our communities. It is a lifeline for more than 50 million Americans including senior citizens, people with serious chronic health problems or disabilities, and children who would otherwise be unable to afford coverage and would likely go without care when they become sick.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, one anti-Medicaid American brazenly -and incorrectly- exclaimed that having Medicaid is worse than having no coverage at all. But a study published today by the National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed what we’ve known for years: Providing medical insurance benefits the poor.

The study found that when poor people are given medical insurance they find and keep a regular doctor, they seek medical care more often, and they’re less depressed and more financially stable.

The study also found that women with insurance were 60 percent more likely to have mammograms. And those with insurance were 20 percent more likely to get their cholesterol checked and 55 percent more likely to have a doctor who they saw regularly.

What’s more, according to the study, those with insurance are 25 percent less likely to have an unpaid bill sent to a collection and agency and were 40 percent less likely to borrow money or fail to pay other bills -like their credit card bill or mortgage- because they had to pay medical bills.

While the findings may seem obvious to many, the study is unique because it is the first of its kind to use a randomized controlled methodology and therefore the findings are not unimpeachable. Most importantly, the study clearly shows the value of Medicaid in promoting much better access to care, improving health, and strengthened financial security.

Those who want to cut Medicaid, like the Republican congressional leadership, have argued that there’s already a safety net in place with things like emergency rooms, charity care, and free clinics.

But this groundbreaking study flips that logic on its head. It definitively shows that providing health insurance to the poor makes a significant difference in health outcomes.

As politicians rush to put Medicaid on the chopping block, we urge them to take a moment and read the astounding results of this study. Taking Medicaid away from those who depend on this vital program is like taking away their financial security, their family doctor, and even their likelihood to catch and treat preventable diseases.

We don’t think people who need Medicaid as their lifeline would like it if that lifeline were taken from them.