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Medical insurance claim form with money

The Oregon Medicaid study released a few weeks ago is still making news, as conservative politicians and pundits are still using it to make the case that Medicaid doesn't make people healthier and thus states should not take the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. As a reminder, this study reviewed the health impacts of Medicaid coverage for a group of 10,000 Oregonians the state added to the program in a lottery a few years ago. The study had the opportunity to compare the general health outcomes for two groups: those who won the lottery, and those who lost.

The study didn't find statistically significant improvements in the physical health of the Medicaid group in a handful of indicators reviewed. It did, however, find significant improvements in the mental health and the financial security of the Medicaid group since they received coverage. Kaiser Health News interviewed one of those recipients, who reiterated those improvements, and who helped explain why health insurance isn't a magic pill that automatically makes a sick person healthy, but a tool to give a sick person a fighting chance at being healthier. Mary Carson is 55, and has asthma, high blood pressure, a thyroid disorder, and depression. Here's what's happened for her in the two years she's had Medicaid.

Over the course of nine months or a year I was able to drop two different blood pressure medicines, which is nice because they had side effects I didn’t like. So I'm down to half a pill of one of the medicines and my blood pressure is still stable. For about a five-year period I thought my thyroid medicine was too low and I couldn’t afford the doctor visit to have the lab slip to have the labs read to get a new prescription. That whole procedure is about $300 so I just stayed with the same medicine. With Oregon Health Plan I was able to go back to the doctor and when she said wanted check my thyroid levels I could say, "Yes, I'll go to the lab and get that done." They were low again. I was able to get that increased and that made a big difference in how much energy I had and how much better I felt. [...]

Financially, I'd be maybe $100 a month poorer [without coverage]. I would not be monitoring my blood sugar. I would not be paying as much attention to my cholesterol. I probably would have lost some weight but I don't think I would have lost so much, and I don't know if I would have been so good at keeping it off. I'd be much more anxious about what could go wrong. [...]

And there's something about just feeling like you're part of regular life. There's a lot of emphasis on how everyone should be healthy and everyone should live longer, and you don't want to be a burden on society. If you don’t have medical insurance, you're kind of not part of that. It's hard to explain, but there's an element of participating in society that being able to go to the doctor gives you. Everybody always asks everyone how you're doing, and to be able say "My doctor says I’m doing really well," that's nice, instead of being in a group of people and saying, "Well, I don't really go to doctors."

Mary Carson is unquestionably healthier now than she was two years ago, even though that might not be measurable in a study. She's healthier and she's being proactive in improving her health because she knows what she needs to do. And she has some regained dignity because she's now part of "regular life." Just like everyone else in society, or all the people who have access to health care, Carson can work on taking control of her own health. She gets to be part of society because of that. Getting health care hasn't made Carson instantaneously "healthy." But it's helping her not get sicker. It's helping her not be anxious every day about what could happen next. That's not too much to ask for everyone.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Mon May 13, 2013 at 12:32 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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