Expanding Medicaid eligibility could increase voter turnout, study finds

Expanding Medicaid eligibility in Oregon with a lottery system improved voter turnout in 2008 by 7 percent overall, according to research from Boston-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Authors Katherine Baicker, PhD, of the University of Chicago and Amy Finkelstein, PhD, of MIT tracked voter behavior of a group of 10,000 uninsured, low-income adults who were selected by a lottery system to apply for Medicaid in 2008. They found voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election increased by 7 percent. Expanded Medicaid eligibility had a greater effect on voter turnout of men (18 percent more voted in the 2008 election) and those who lived in Democratic counties (10 percent more voted).

The authors caution that the results may not generalize to other Medicaid expansions. This is because people who won the lottery to gain eligibility may have felt they won something from the government and were therefore more likely to participate in government processes.

However, another potential explanation for the link between expanded Medicaid eligibility and voter turnout is that public assistance offices are required to offer and assist with voter registration when a person applies for Medicaid. Other potential explanations for the increased likelihood of voting include increased economic resources as a result of Medicaid, improved health, reduced depression, and greater sense of inclusion and empowerment, according to the study authors. 

Though the circumstances of Medicaid expansion analyzed in the study are unique, the findings are similar to observations after the 2014 ACA Medicaid expansions, the authors note.

Read the full paper here.

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