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Emergency Room Visits More Frequent On Oregon Health Plan

OPB | Jan. 7, 2014 12:30 p.m. | Updated: Jan. 9, 2014 10:45 a.m.

Curtis Gregory Perry / Creative Commons

In 2008, Oregon had money to expand it’s Medicaid program to 10,000 new applicants. Around 90,000 people were on the waiting list at that point. So, the state had a lottery to determine which of those people to enroll in the plan. The system set up a natural experiment that allowed researchers to compare those on the program — known as the Oregon Health Plan — with those who were not chosen in the lottery.

Studies have been published over the past few years examining some of the differences between these two groups. So far, researchers have discovered that the Medicaid recipients were less likely to be depressed and less likely to have their bills go to a collection agency. Researchers also found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that visits to the doctor, drug prescriptions, and hospital admissions all increased. However, the data does not show a decrease in diagnoses of conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

This month, Science published the most recent study, which shows, counter to claims made by proponents of health care reform, that emergency room visits did not decrease among those on Medicaid. In fact, they increased by 40 percent.

Katherine Baicker is a health economist at Harvard School of Public Health and a lead researcher on the project. We’ll discuss the findings from the Oregon Health Plan experiment, and what it means for health care reform.

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