Study: Medicaid expansion linked to fewer deaths

Although much of the attention has been focused on how expanding Medicaid (or opting out) will affect state budgets, a new study looks at how the reform provision will affect coverage and therefore mortality rates.

According to the study published yesterday in the online New England Journal of Medicine, Medicaid expansion could lower mortality rates. If more poor people had health insurance, fewer would die, Harvard researchers concluded.

Researchers looked at New York, Maine and Arizona, three states that expanded Medicaid to cover low-income adults without children or disabilities, a population of people not normally eligible for Medicaid. They compared mortality rates to Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico and New Hampshire, states that didn't expand Medicaid.

The results: Medicaid expansions were associated with a 6.1 percent decline in deaths, or about 2,840 per year for every 500,000 adults.

Study authors noted that people added to Medicaid in the three states reported better health and were less likely to delay care.

However, study authors acknowledged the limitations of the study.

"I can't tell you for sure that this is a cause-and-effect relationship," study author Benjamin D. Sommers, assistant professor of health policy and economics, told The New York Times. "I can tell you we did everything we could to rule out alternative explanations."

It's also important to note that the three states in the study voluntarily expanded their Medicaid programs, whereas some Republican states have been more resistant to join, including Texas, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

"I think it's a very significant study in part because of the paucity of studies that have really looked at health outcomes of insurance coverage," Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis told NYT. "Actual mortality studies are few and far between. This [study] … certainly should raise concern about the failure to expand Medicaid coverage to people most at risk of not getting the care that they need."

For more information:
- check out the study
- read the NYT article

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