Health economist Reagan Baughman has seen firsthand how public policy directly impacts the health care of millions of people. She served as a visiting fellow at the Central Budget Office (CBO) in Washington, D.C., during a sabbatical in the 2009-2010 year. Her tenure there remains a source of pride and influences her work today.
“I want policy that meets rational objectives,” Baughman said. “I believe in the nonpartisan role of the CBO, and that good policy depends on good information. There’s a lot at stake because CBO estimates can impact which laws are passed.”
As an economist at Paul College, Baughman’s research includes analyses of health insurance and the effects of public policy on health outcomes. She has established herself as a national expert in the areas of children’s access to health care and child care.
“I care about kids and their welfare. I want the people who need assistance to get assistance,” she said. “Lower income kids lead that group, so that’s who I study.”
Two of Baughman’s recent papers focus on two public policies, child support and the Earned Income Tax Credit, that increase personal income. The question she poses is whether these increases have a positive impact on health. Do people use the extra money, for example, to buy more nutritious food or private health insurance that makes doctor and dentist visits more attainable?
The first paper examines child support payments, which are governed by federal guidelines but administered by the states.
“Child support can be a very complex and contentious process, as you can imagine,” Baughman said. “But children whose primary guardian receives child care support are more likely to be insured and have better self-reported health status.”
Her second paper looks at the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This credit reduces taxes and provides income support for working parents. Baughman wanted to know whether extra income from the EITC correlated with improved access to health care among disadvantaged youths. She found that having more income does correlate to higher rates of private health insurance for six- to ten-year olds.
“It’s encouraging to see real benefits when money is making its way to the child,” Baughman said.