The early results from the experiment, based on surveys performed a year following initial Medicaid assignment and released in the summer of 2011, seemed promising. I described them for Slate in an article titled “Does Health Coverage Make People Healthier?” The answer then was a tentative yes: Oregon Medicaid applicants who were randomly assigned to receive insurance reported that they utilized more preventive care, felt in better health, were more stable financially, and overall just a whole lot happier than those who didn’t win the insurance lottery. At the time, conservative commentators cautioned that the liberal media—of which I am a proud member—were overhyping the study’s implications. The results were promising but far from conclusive; they weren’t based on actual health outcomes but instead things like health care usage (trips to the doctor, use of preventive care, and so on) and self-reported health status (“Are you in poor, fair, or excellent health?”) rather than actual health outcomes.
And the Now that the clinical results have started to come in, it’s time for liberal media types like myself to eat some humble pie. Today’s New England Journal article presents a set of findings showing that Medicaid had no effect on a set of conditions where you would expect proper health management to make a difference. There are effective treatment protocols for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes, yet insurance status had no effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or glycated hemoglobin (a measure of diabetic blood sugar control).