Medicaid Expansion Leads To Fewer High School Dropouts And More College Graduates: Study

Medicaid Expansion Leads To Fewer High School Dropouts And More College Graduates: Study

Amid the ongoing debate over 24 states’ refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, a recent report by the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that expanding health insurance coverage for low-income children resulted in fewer high school dropouts, higher college attendance rates and a better likelihood of attaining a bachelor's degree.

Cornell and Harvard researchers examined the effects of Medicaid expansion among eligible children in the 1980s and 1990s in states that broadened their public insurance programs and concluded “better health is one of the mechanisms driving our results by showing that Medicaid eligibility when young translated into better teen health.” Better health, in turn, led to substantial long-term educational benefits.

According to the working paper, published in May, states that increased childhood Medicaid eligibility by 10 percent reduced high school dropout rates by 5.2 percent and increased college attendance and BA attainment by 1.1 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.

After examining two decades of Medicaid eligibility expansion in various states, the authors argued that in addition to immediately improving children’s health statuses, public health expansion renders long-term benefits by working to reduce "inequality and higher economic growth that stems from the creation of a more skilled workforce.”

The researchers attributed the outcomes to two plausible explanations. First, children with health insurance benefited from healthier lifestyles -– they missed less school due to illness, were less likely to engage in risky sexual activity, had lower likelihoods of obesity and fewer mental health problems.

Indirectly, the authors explained that by spending less money on health care, low-income families eligible for Medicaid were able to shift a greater share of their resources toward helping their children succeed in school.

As of 2013, roughly 10 percent of children in the U.S. -- or 7.9 million -- remain uninsured. About 70 percent of them are eligible for coverage under Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. Under the Affordable Care Act, that number is estimated to decrease by 40 percent.

Before You Go

Under the Affordable Care Act, 24 states have opted not to expand Medicaid to those making no more than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, leaving roughly 5.7 low-income Americans uninsured.

States Not Expanding Medicaid

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