Does not having health insurance make people more proactive about safeguarding their health and practicing healthy habits? Do people with health insurance take more chances with their health because they know they will have access to treatment? Or is neither the case? These are some of the questions that researchers from MIT set out to answer with their study of the health outcomes and finances of people with and without health insurance in Oregon.
In their study, the researchers compared the health of over 6,000 low-income people who had two years earlier been chosen through a lottery for Medicaid coverage to over 5,000 low-income people who were not chosen to receive coverage. They measured each group’s health and finances by looking at blood-pressure, cholesterol, glycated hemoglobin levels, screening for depression, medication inventories, self-reported diagnoses, health status, health care utilization, and out-of-pocket spending for care.
The results showed that, for the most part, having Medicaid coverage did not effect people’s physical health. The prevalence or diagnosis of hypertension or high cholesterol levels or the use of medication for these conditions was not effected by Medicaid coverage. Those covered by Medicaid were more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and use diabetes medication, however those without coverage showed the same average rate of diabetes – they just weren’t diagnosed or treated.
Besides raising diabetes detection and management rates, Medicaid was also shown to decrease the probability of a positive screening for depression, increase the use of many preventive services, and nearly eliminate catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenditures.
So, while you may be just as likely to have diabetes or heart disease whether you have health insurance or not, having coverage does increase the chance that you’ll be diagnosed and treated appropriately, and may even make you less likely to experience depression – possibly because you don’t have to worry as much about access to health care as someone without insurance.
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Sources: forbes.com and nejm.org