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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Is health insurance an antidepressant?

New findings show that wider coverage has one clear effect on the population, and it’s not one that anyone is talking about.

For those who support President Obama’s health care law, which has already begun to expand the number of Americans with health insurance, the rationale is a no-brainer: Having medical coverage makes people healthier and enables them to get the care they need when they get sick or injured. And broader coverage could help control our national health care bill by encouraging regular doctor visits and preventive care that cuts down on expensive emergency treatment.

But over the past several years, a stream of new information has dealt blows to both those ideas. Data from a pioneering Medicaid program in Oregon suggest that expanding health coverage hasn’t saved the state any money—in fact, it increased annual health care spending by about 35 percent. Even more surprising is that, after two years, having Medicaid has done little to improve people’s physical health.

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