The big news last week in the health policy world was a study published by three Harvard economists, arguing that Medicaid expansions were “significantly associated with reduced mortality.” Their paper comes in the wake of dozens of clinical studies showing that Medicaid beneficiaries suffer from very poor health outcomes relative to those with private insurance, and in some cases fare worse than those with no insurance at all. Now, some media outlets are using the Harvard paper to browbeat states into expanding their Medicaid programs. But the Harvard paper, while interesting, has many flaws, flaws that call its expansive conclusions into question.
First, let’s talk about the good things in the Harvard paper, which appeared in last week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It was authored by three credentialed economists at the Harvard School of Public Health: Ben Sommers, Kate Baicker, and Arnold Epstein. (Sommers has taken leave from Harvard to work for the Obama administration.)