As states decide whether to expand Medicaid by 2014 under ObamaCare, a new study could give them a compelling reason to do so: Harvard researchers found that fewer people died in states that expanded their programs. The study looked at data from New York, Maine, and Arizona, all of which recently began offering Medicaid to more low-income adults, and found that mortality rates of people ages 20 to 64 decreased by around 1,500 per year—while, in four neighboring states that did not expand Medicaid, death rates increased. When the data was adjusted for various factors, researchers determined that Medicaid expansions were associated with a 6.1% decline in deaths. General health was also improved, the New York Times reports.
The study is important because research into the efficacy of Medicaid is notoriously difficult, and critics often argue that Medicaid expansions may actually be linked to poor health. Even so, some skepticism remains. One big problem is that the data used are county-level statistics rather than individual mortality rates, one expert says. Another issue? Just one of the states, New York, had a statistically significant decline in deaths when studied individually; for that and other reasons, it may be difficult or impossible to generalize the results. Even so, experts note that another Medicaid study in Oregon found similarly positive results.