Editorial: Expanding Medicaid is about saving lives
Editorials July 27, 2012 9:08PM
Obamacare supporters celebrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 28 in Washington, D.C., after the court announced its ruling on the Affordable Care Act. | Alex Wong~Getty Images
Updated: August 30, 2012 6:21AM
As the states debate whether to expand Medicaid to more poor people, as called for in President Barack Obama’s health-care law, we trust they will remember this is not a matter of just dollars and cents.
Lives really are on the line.
For decades, conservative critics have opposed expanding Medicaid because, they say, it is too expensive and poor people are better off going to emergency rooms and public clinics. Medicaid, they contend, is arguably worse than being uninsured because it provides such low-quality health care.
But a new study, published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, found that when states expanded Medicaid to cover more poor people, fewer people died. In three states that expanded Medicaid — New York, Maine and Arizona — deaths declined 6.1 percent. That means 2,840 fewer people died each year for every 500,000 adults added to the Medicaid rolls.
And who were these people who didn’t die? Disproportionately, they were nonwhite and livied in depressed rural counties — the poor.
During the same 10-year period studied by the Harvard School of Public Health researchers, death rates in four comparison states where Medicaid was not expanded — Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico and New Hampshire — actually increased.
In its last sentence, the study portentiously concludes: “Policymakers should be aware that major changes in Medicaid — either expansions or reductions in coverage — may have significant effects on the health of vulnerable populations.”
The study was conducted well before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that Obama’s Affordable Care Act cannot force states to expand Medicaid, which would extend health insurance to 17 million more Americans.
But the study’s message for today could not be clearer: ObamaCare really is about improving health and saving lives.