Understanding the impact of health insurance on health

From the Commonwealth Fund Blog:

A recent study reported that people who gained insurance coverage through Oregon’s Medicaid program experienced better access to care, increased detection of depression and diabetes, and reduced out-of-pocket costs. Yet blood pressure control, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels did not significantly improve. While some have said these findings suggest insurance coverage may not lead to better health, a new post on The Commonwealth Fund Blog argues that previous research leaves little doubt that insurance has a beneficial effect on health status over time.

Commonwealth Fund president David Blumenthal, M.D., and vice president for Affordable Health Insurance Sara R. Collins, Ph.D., point out that the study examined the effects of just 17 months of coverage, on average. Moreover, the benefits of health insurance may manifest in better trends in health status, rather than absolute improvements. Adults examined in the Oregon study may also have been too healthy, and the number of outcome measures may have been too small, to discern immediate health effects from gaining coverage.

The historic gains in health insurance coverage that will be achieved through the Affordable Care Act will likely result in more immediate health changes for older and less healthy Americans, the authors say. “But even those changes may not show up as dramatic improvements in health, but rather as the preservation of good health, or a slowing of its deterioration,” say Blumenthal and Collins.

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