May 032013

Conservatives are seizing upon a new study that shows Medicaid recipients tend to consume more health care while their overall health remains unimproved as proof that the forthcoming expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is a waste of money. It’s a willfully stupid conclusion for the following reasons:

  • People on Medicaid have low incomes. People with low income tend to have more chronic health conditions. So it’s no surprise that they would consume more health care once they receive access to affordable health care.
  • The study in question tracked people for only two years. It’s unlikely that a huge improvement in a chronic condition is going to show up after a couple years. And some conditions may never improve. Does that mean health care is wasted on such people? Is it wasted on me?  If we focus only on measurable improvement as the yardstick for justifying public health care expenditures, we’d better be prepared to have some really difficult conversations with our elderly and disabled.
  • The study did show that Medicaid recipients were substantially less likely to experience depression, which can be as debilitating as any physical impairment.
  • That lower incidence of depression might be related to the finding that Medicaid recipients experience far less financial stress.

Expanding Medicaid is undoubtedly a cost to society. But this study does nothing to undermine the basic assertion that Medicaid makes a real and positive difference in people’s lives.

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