Covering low-income people through public programs such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, rather than through private health insurance, results in lower per-person medical spending and considerably lower out-of-pocket expenses for consumers. That’s the conclusion of a new study published today on the Health Affairs Web site.

For example, the total annual medical spending required to cover an average low-income uninsured adult with Medicaid for a full year would have been $3,084 in 2005, while covering that person with private health insurance instead would have cost $3,899, or about 26 percent more. More dramatically, if the uninsured person were covered by Medicaid, the annual out-of-pocket expenses for that person – including payments for deductibles, copayments and coinsurance, and noncovered services, but not premiums – would be $109, as compared to $771, or about 600 percent more, under private health insurance.

The study is by Leighton Ku, a professor at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, and Matthew Broaddus, a research analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.