Insurance expansion has helped address chronic disease

While much of the discussion involving the Affordable Care Act has centered around the financial component, there has been considerably less attention paid to the law's effect on health. A new study from Health Affairs offers encouraging news on this front, finding that people with health insurance are significantly more likely to have providers discover and manage chronic disease.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston reviewed data from 28,157 people aged 20 to 64 who participated in the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics' National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2012 and found insured people were much more likely than uninsured people to receive a diagnosis for diabetes, hypertension or hypercholesterolemia, according to the study announcement. The research team also found that those with insurance had diagnosed chronic diseases more under control, with better levels of blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol.

These results join previous research that suggests that health insurance matters to health, noted a piece from the Washington Post Wonkblog. But the degree of its importance can vary, according to the post, depending on how the question is studied.

Research into the after-effects of health reform in Massachusetts, for example, showed a significant drop in mortality and better preventive care. In Oregon, however, a study concluded that Medicaid coverage had a major impact on mental health and financial security, but no significant effect on cholesterol or high blood pressure.

And because of the complexity of factors involved, including underlying differences between people who have health insurance and those who don't, the Health Affairs study may overestimate the health benefits of being covered, Sharon Long, a senior fellow at the health policy center of the Urban Institute, told the Wonkblog.

Nonetheless, experts generally agreed that having some type of insurance was better than none, but that more research may be useful to determine other ways that money could be spent to improve health, such as reducing poverty.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- see the study abstract
- here's the Wonkblog post