Expanding Medicaid Coverage in PA Will Save Lives

I have written about the economic benefits of expanding Medicaid health coverage in Pennsylvania, but what often goes unmentioned in this debate is just how critical the expansion is to the commonwealth's public health. It will make Pennsylvanians healthier and more financially stable — and even save lives.

Medicaid supports better public health by providing comprehensive health coverage to children, seniors and people with disabilities. Since 2011, The New England Journal of Medicine has published two studies by Harvard researchers showing that expanding Medicaid coverage improves health outcomes for enrollees.

One study showed that expanding health coverage reduced the death rate among enrollees by 6.1%. The study compared three states that expanded Medicaid between 2000 and 2005 with three similar, neighboring states (including Pennsylvania) that did not. Researchers found that Medicaid enrollees in expansion states lived longer because they were able to seek preventive care, take prescribed medications, and receive other necessary medical treatment.

Another study — of Oregon’s 2008 Medicaid expansion — showed that Medicaid enrollees have better health and financial security than non-enrollees. Oregon’s expansion was limited to 10,000 adults, chosen randomly from a waiting list. One year after expansion, enrollees were 25% more likely to report that they were in good health or better compared to people left on the waiting list. Enrollees were 40% less likely to report having to borrow money or skip payment on other bills due to medical expenses.

These studies provide good apples-to-apples comparisons, unlike earlier studies (sometimes cited in this debate) that failed to consider most current Medicaid enrollees are older, sicker, and poorer than the general population. The recent academic studies controlled better for age, disability, and income.

Accepting the federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage in Pennsylvania will create jobs and strengthen the state’s economy. As these recent studies show, it will also improve the public health and save lives in Pennsylvania.

Thanks to Kristen Dama of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia for contributing to this blog post.

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