Is Medicaid, the health care program for low-income Americans, a costly program that doesn’t work well? Or is it an essential program vital to the health of millions? The debate over Medicaid has heightened in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 2012 health care ruling, which made Medicaid expansion optional for states.

While some on Capitol Hill criticize the program, saying that people on Medicaid have worse health outcomes than others, researchers—including Harvard School of Public Health‘s Katherine Baicker, professor of health economics—disagree.

“It’s not that Medicaid is causing the health outcomes to be bad; it’s that people with more health needs—or potentially more serious health conditions—are the ones who more likely successfully sign up for Medicaid,” Baicker said on NPR’s Morning Edition on August 13, 2012.

“We found that gaining access to Medicaid increased health care use—and that was preventive care, doctor’s office visits, but also hospitalizations,” she said. “It dramatically reduced financial strain, such as lowering the likelihood of having a bad debt sent to collection, by 25 percent.” She added, “We found, in fact, that states that expanded Medicaid…relative to states that didn’t, had substantially lower mortality.”

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