In what’s called the Oregon Experiment, 10,000 people in the state won Medicaid coverage in a lottery. Then researchers compared and contrasted the winners with the losers. As it turns out, the winners didn’t get any healthier — at least not physically. But there were other benefits. The people who won Medicaid were a whopping 30 percent less likely to be depressed. The researchers also correctly point out that health insurance is a financial product, intended to prevent financial calamity due to extraordinary medical bills. In the study, “Medicaid coverage almost completely eliminated catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenditures.” That’s a big deal.

Let’s remember that health care does not equal health. Health comes from many places besides health care or health insurance: good schools, safe neighborhoods, and access to good jobs.

As heated fights over the health law’s Medicaid expansion engulf state legislatures, a sweeping new study indicates that the program is unlikely to quickly improve enrollees’ physical health. The research, published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, did find that low-income people who recently gained Medicaid coverage in Oregon used more health-care services.

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Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED's State of Health blog. Since 2011, she's been writing stories and editing them for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco's CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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