Over the weekend, The New York Times editorial board offered an unsigned editorial defending Medicaid on the basis of the results of the first year of the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment. After declaring that the study refutes claims that those on Medicaid would be better off with no insurance at all, the Times offers this helpful caveat:
The critics rightly point out that just because the Medicaid enrollees reported that their health was better does not mean that it actually was better. In the second year, researchers are measuring actual blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and other physical data.
Self-reported health did improve for Medicaid enrollees in the Oregon study. But as the caveat above makes clear, it would be a mistake to claim definitively that health objectively improved because of Medicaid. Nevertheless, this is essentially what the Times editorial does in its final paragraph, when it argues that "any politicians eager to find savings by denying poor people access to Medicaid should recognize that they will be harming the health and financial well-being of highly vulnerable Americans." [Bold added.] Perhaps the health of Medicaid enrollees would be harmed. But perhaps not; a year into the Oregon experiment, we still don't really know, and there's some evidence to suggest that the advances in self-reported health are largely a result of health insurance's psychic benefits rather than true phsyical improvements.