Good Health and a Good Education

Go to a symposium where the speakers are health economists and you're going to get a lot of equations, bar charts and yield curves. And ...
July 28, 2008

Chalk Go to a symposium where the speakers are health economists and you're going to get a lot of equations, bar charts and yield curves. And that was true at AEI's half-day conference, "Beyond More Health Insurance Coverage, toward Better Health Outcomes."

With a title like that, you're lucky to come out with anything non-Ivory Towerish. But the speakers at the AEI symposium last week -- speakers that included Nobel prize winner James Heckman of the University of Chicago and Robert Kaestner of the University of Illinois at Chicago -- had a pointer or two for states and their Medicaid programs.

Stick with me while I get to it. The underlying idea is that health outcomes -- mortality and morbidity rates -- can be linked directly to education. To oversimplify: The higher up the educational ladder, the longer and healthier the life. High school dropouts: not a good bet for longevity.

"Education," Professor Kaestner said, "makes it easier (cheaper) for people to obtain and process information about the causes and consequences of health." There wasn't a speaker on the rostrum who didn't go out of his way to agree with Kaestner, and that includes Heckman.

So, basic take away from the symposium:

A primo move for a state that wants to improve the access of its citizens to health care is to make sure they get an education when they're young. While awaiting the day when all high schoolers graduate and are literate, Medicaid officials should look into shifting spending into educating beneficiaries about health and health services. That way they can make use of all those services Medicaid promises to provide but beneficiaries tend not to understand or use.

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