Study author Manan Roy, a Ph.D. student and an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said in the national debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- which requires all Americans to have health insurance -- it's widely assumed private health insurance can do a better job than the public insurance funded by the U.S. government.
Infants covered under Medicaid and its sister program -- CHIP -- come mostly from lower-income families who are more likely to be unmarried, younger, less educated, poor and disadvantaged, while infants covered by private health insurance are mostly from white and are generally more advantaged, Roy said.
"Public health insurance gets a lot of bad press," Roy said in a statement. "But for infants who are covered by health insurance, the government-funded insurance appears to be more efficient than private health insurance -- and can actually provide better care at a lower cost."
Roy said a surprise finding in the study is that public health insurance improves even the health of infants who are less healthy due to the adverse effects of poverty.
Roy presented the findings at the Western Economic Association International Conference in San Diego.