No, the Oregon Medicaid Study Did Not Show “No Effect”

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Tyler Cowen links to a couple of writers today who say the recent study of the Oregon Medicaid experiment was bad news for Medicaid fans because it showed that Medicaid coverage had no effect on most of the medical conditions that were studied. His summary:

Do read the rest of those posts for a more complete picture of the results, but many commentators are overlooking these rather simple upshots.

It’s disappointing to keep reading this stuff, because it’s flatly not true. There are three main takeaways from the study:

  1. There were positive results on some measures (depression, financial security, rates of diagnosis).
  2. There were also positive results on all of the other measures studied (blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol).
  3. But the size of the study was too small to determine if the positive results in #2 were real. This says nothing at all about Medicaid. It just says that, unfortunately, the experiment was too small to be definitive.

In addition, the study says nothing at all about some more fundamental questions. Is Medicaid well run? Does it deliver better performance per dollar than some other programs? Are there useful ways it could be reformed? Even if the results from #2 turn out to be real and significant, are they worth the cost? For that matter, is healthcare in general worth the price we pay in America? Those are all great questions that we should spend a lot of time investigating, but this particular study simply says nothing one way or the other about any of them. Strictly in terms of how effective Medicaid is, Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll have it right when they tell us how much this study should change our thinking: “Not that much.”

Speaking for myself, I’d also repeat—over and over and over until at least one person responds to this—that the study looked only at a few easily measurable chronic conditions. These are important, but they’re not the bulk of what medical care is about. Most of it is about routine preventive care and acute problems: broken bones, infections, flu shots, immunizations, etc. etc. I’m genuinely puzzled by the fact that virtually no one seems to acknowledge this.

But please, please, please: don’t say the Medicaid study “showed no effects.” It ain’t true. It showed positive effects, but it was too small and underpowered to tell us for sure if these positive effects were real. That’s it.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate