I’m not sure if this counts as one those health care “glitches and bumps,” President Obama talked about the other day. But whatever term you choose, it’s hardly a good harbinger for Obamacare and its dramatic Medicaid expansion.
New results from the Oregon Health Study — a “landmark study” in the words of The New York Times – comparing thousands of low-income people in Oregon who received Medicaid access with those who didn’t found that “Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years, but it did increase use of health care services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain.”
“It’s disappointing,” Zeke Emanuel, a former Obama health policy adviser, told The Washington Post.
Let’s be clear: A randomized control study — what the NYTimes calls “the gold standard in medical and scientific research” — found that the program responsible for half of Obamacare’s insurance coverage expansion (at the cost of $1 trillion) didn’t make people healthier in any key ways.
More: “We found no significant effect of Medicaid coverage on the prevalence or diagnosis of hypertension or high cholesterol levels or on the use of medication for these conditions.” (Even worse, a preliminary version of this study was used by Obamacare proponents to argue for states expanding Medicaid.)
Again, the Medicaid expansion is, in the words of the Center for American Progress, “a centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” And it doesn’t appear to make people healthier in the way proponents had hoped.
Oh, the Medicaid recipients used more health care services and felt happier and experienced less financial hardship. Not insignificant impacts — but these were not the big health care selling points by Obamacrats. It’s like returning a lemon to an autodealer and having the sales guy talk up the car’s great air conditioning and the sound system. The researchers running the study are talking up those positive results, but that is just a game effort to turn lemons into lemonade
A few other observations:
1. This is not the first time something like this has happened. During the run up to the health care battle, Team Obama argued that reform could cut $700 billion from US health care spending — a claim based on a study that later came under fire.
2. So if Medicaid spending doesn’t boost health outcomes, how can Paul Ryan’s Medicaid block-granting “cuts” hurt health outcomes?
3. Health economists Aaron Carroll and Austin Frakt argue that the study didn’t “show that Medicaid harms people, or that the ACA is a failure, or that anything supporters of Medicaid have said is a lie. Moreover, it certainly didn’t show that private insurance or Medicare succeeds in ways that Medicaid fails.”
No, but perhaps it’s time for another controlled study, one on the best ways to help low-income people get the health care services they need. And maybe that involves less government and more choice, competition, and personal responsibility.