Health reform working: Medicaid access fixes financial strain, improves health

Despite concerns about greater access to health insurance brought about through healthcare reform, new research indicates that access to Medicaid does substantially increase healthcare use and patient well-being and also reduces the financial strain of covered individuals, according to a study published today on the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) website.

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), NBER, and Providence Health & Services studied the effects of the 2010 Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid to low-income individuals who are un- or underinsured, in what researchers call the first-of-its-kind study, according to a press release today.

"Some people wonder whether Medicaid coverage has any effect. The study findings make clear that it does. People reported that their physical and mental health were substantially better after a year of insurance coverage, and they were much less likely to have to borrow money or go into debt to pay for their care," said Amy Finkelstein, professor of economics at MIT and co-principal investigator of the study, in the press release.

The study indicates that new Medicaid participants are more likely to use recommended preventative services such as mammograms (60 percent) and cholesterol monitoring (20 percent), as well as visit a primary care provider (70 percent). Patients are more likely to be admitted to a hospital by 30 percent, but Medicaid coverage does not appear to affect emergency department use.

In addition, Medicaid access cuts down on the financial strain, according to the study. Patients with Medicaid are less likely to skip out on paying their healthcare bills by 40 percent. It also decreases the chances of an unpaid medical bill being sent to a collection agency by 25 percent.

As far as health goes, patients were 25 percent more likely to be in excellent health, they reported.

Medicaid will cover more low-income adults in all states by 2014.

For more:
- read the full study
- check out the press release

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