Medicaid Expansion Leads To Fewer High School Dropouts, More College Grads

News & Views | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 06/06/2014 | 12:15 PM EDT

Researchers conclude that children with health insurance benefit from healthier lifestyles

Despite the ongoing debate over some U.S. states’ refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, a recent report 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.

The National Bureau of Economic Research released the study that was examined by Cornell and Harvard researchers, who studied the effects Medicaid expansion among eligible children in the 1980s and 1990s in states that broadened their public insurance programs. The researchers concluded that “better health is one of the mechanisms driving our results by showing that Medicaid eligibility when young translated into better teen health.”

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 looking at two decades of Medicaid eligibility expansion in various states, the authors of the study 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 concluded that children with health insurance benefited from healthier lifestyles, 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.

The authors also explained that by spending less money on health care, low-income families eligible for Medicaid were able to allocate 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.

(Photo: 237/Sam Edwards/Ocean/Corbis)

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