Faculty Focus

The Economy of Healthy

◆ 5 minute read

The Economy of Healthy

Nobody gets through childhood without a few scraped knees and sprained ankles. But could all those injuries determine how much you earn as an adult?

That’s one of the questions Daniel Grossman, associate professor of economics at the Chambers College, wants to answer. Grossman’s research looks at how early-age health care programs, particularly those implemented through public policy, influence a person’s economic security later in life.

The far-reaching implications of this research extend into many fields, and could affect the lives of countless individuals for decades to come. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Grossman’s expertise has only become more central to the public interest — and with the spotlight now on his work, he has some thoughts to share.

What’s the most interesting topic you’re currently digging into?

“A lot of the work that I’ve done is on Medicaid, which is constantly being expanded and contracted. There’s a lot of policy discussion around it, and we need to understand both the direct and potentially indirect benefits of the program. An indirect benefit of making children more likely to be eligible for Medicaid is that it leads to better mental health outcomes for the parents, since there’s less financial risk. You, as a parent, might have private insurance, but your children might be on public insurance, so how does that affect decision making within the household? There’s evidence that the more rules you have to follow in using your insurance, the more likely you are to forgo care because of the fear of higher fees.”

Is your research more focused on individual choices or widespread trends?

“We’re investigating individuals and individual decision making, but at the same time, we’re looking for patterns in a large data set, which are easier to see when you have a million observations rather than a small grouping. We’re trying to see what happens if we induce people to make a slightly different choice — for instance, what happens if we improve insurance slightly for people who can barely afford it? How does that affect educational and health outcomes? It’s a small change, but we need large data sets to evaluate the results.”

Given the importance of your work to so many people, how do you make sure it reaches them?

“We try to get our work out in interdisciplinary venues so it’s not just being seen by economists. I worked on the Flint water crisis, looking at the effects of water quality on fertility and on lead tests in young children. I was invited to speak at a larger conference in Flint to get results into the neighborhood, which I believe will happen in the future.”

How do you bring your work into the classroom?

“I teach a lot of health economics classes. One of them is a Ph.D. class where we’re diving into research methods. It’s about developing a research strategy and learning from what’s already out there. I bring my own research into that class because it’s a fun and interesting way of showing students how these projects develop over time – that the polished paper you’re reading started off as just a nugget of an idea.”

What do you think is the most important takeaway from your research?

“Economists in general are trying to understand not just patterns, but the cause and effect of things. That’s really important when you’re going to develop healthcare policy. If you just look at correlations, you miss a lot. It’s important to understand the cause, especially when you’re developing healthcare policy, to know why people are making these decisions.“