Last updated: August 25. 2013 8:19AM - 100 Views

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Akron Beacon Journal

Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to expand Medicaid coverage has generated weeks of debate, state legislators at odds on whether or not Ohio will be better off extending to more uninsured Ohioans the health program for the poorest families and seniors and people with disabilities.

State lawmakers have delayed a decision while legislative working groups review the merits and shortcomings of the program to determine what would best serve the state economy and the health-care needs of this vulnerable population. To that end, a review of research released last week by Ohio State University’s John Glenn School of Public Affairs brings much-needed and timely perspective that should dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding the federal- and state-funded health program.

An oft-repeated contention is that it will not be worth the public expense to expand Medicaid. Critics claim that even as it is, the program fails to improve the health of beneficiaries and may, in fact, leave them worse off than those who have no insurance at all. The argument goes: Why, then, throw more money into a broken system?

The OSU review highlights the weakness in such claims and shows, to the contrary, that Medicaid — and Ohio’s system in particular — is neither broken nor ineffective.

Individuals who become eligible for Medicaid typically face health conditions that are aggravated by their limited economic and social resources and irregular medical attention. Even so, the new report points out, when regular access to health care is made available through Medicaid, the health outcomes of beneficiaries improve in significant ways in comparison to the uninsured. For instance, increased access to care through Medicaid has been found to reduce mortality, particularly among minorities, older adults and residents in poor counties. Other positive outcomes include an increase in preventive screenings; improved mental health; and reductions in financial stress from medical expenses.

It is important, too, that state lawmakers consider the growing capacity of a restructured Ohio Medicaid, with a focus on care management and other patient services, to deliver care comparable in quality to private insurance. A study in May comparing hospital care for heart attacks, congestive heart failure and pneumonia found no difference in quality scores for private-pay and Medicaid patients on two of the three conditions and a one percentile difference on the third. Ohio Medicaid performed better on quality scores on these three ailments than the national average for private-pay.

On a host of health measures — including a regular source of medical care, dental and vision care, prescription drugs, quality of care — the OSU report shows clearly that Ohio Medicaid patients fare far better than their uninsured counterparts. As policymakers seek to separate facts from assumptions, it bears repeating the unequivocal conclusion of the report: The research indicates Medicaid on the whole is effective. It is delivering care that measurably is improving the health, the quality of life and financial stability of lower-income Ohioans. Lawmakers have no reason to deny such benefit to an estimated 275,000 more in the state.

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