As Ohio debates the Medicaid expansion, a new study from Harvard researchers revealed access to Medicaid in Oregon led to better mental health outcomes and reduced financial strain, but no short-term gains were found in physical health outcomes.
The study, which was released Wednesday by The New England Journal of Medicine, had its most positive findings in mental health outcomes, with Medicaid recipients showing 30 percent lower rates of depression in comparison to people without health coverage. Medicaid recipients had a rate of depression of 21 percent, while those without coverage had a rate of 30 percent.
But the gains did not apply to physical health outcomes. When looking at cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, there was no significant difference between Medicaid recipients and people without coverage. The three measures were chosen because they typically reveal better health results within two years and they're easy to obtain.
Still, the study doesn't rule out the possibility of long-term gains.
Medicaid enrollment also reduced financial strain, allowed patients to use more preventive services and nearly eliminated catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenses, according to the study.
The study was conducted by looking at Medicaid recipients in Oregon, which enrolled 10,000 people into Medicaid out of nearly 90,000 applicants through a lottery approximately two years ago, giving researchers the first major randomized pool of Medicaid recipients to study.
A previous study from Harvard researchers, including the lead author of the Oregon study, found that Medicaid expansions improved mortality rates, coverage, access to care and self-reported health. That study looked at three states that expanded Medicaid and compared them to neighboring states that did not.
The Oregon study comes at a time when legislators are debating whether Ohio should use federal funds to expand its Medicaid program. Even though Republican Gov. John Kasich supports the expansion, Republican legislators say they're concerned the federal funds will eventually dry up, leaving the state to find a solution for hundreds of thousands of new Medicaid enrollees. Democrats are joining Kasich in supporting the expansion, with Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney recently calling it a "no-brainer."
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade.
The budget bill that recently passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House would forgo the Medicaid expansion while leaving room to consider further Medicaid reforms down the line ("The Chastity Bunch," issue of April 24).