Research In Progress

Ex Ante Moral Hazard in Health Insurance: Lessons from the ACA and Risky Sex

Few studies in the health economics literature examine the unintended consequences of health insurance on risky health behaviors and investment in good health. These distortions, known as ex ante moral hazard, can have important impacts on health expenditures and health outcomes. I use a policy in the ACA and pre-policy insured rates as a measure of policy intensity to isolate the effect of health insurance as they relate to sexual behavior. I find ex ante moral hazard decreases prevention and increases STIs.

The Long-Run Effects of Student Aid on Health: Leveraging Changes in Social Security Benefits

I investigate the effect of financial aid on health, specifically BMI and general self-report health. Aid lowers the cost of college, which increases college-going. However, there is little evidence on the long-run impact of aid on health. I exploit a 1981 shock in Social Security benefits to test the effect of aid on health. Minor children of retired or disabled Social Security beneficiaries and children with deceased parents are eligible for their own benefits, and before 1981 these children could receiving benefits conditional on college enrollment. Using difference-in-differences, I show benefits for college students reduced women’s BMI and improved general health, but had no effect on men. I also find that aid improved educational attainment for beneficiaries, which is a plausible mechanism between aid and health.

Estimating the Health Impacts of WIC: A Regression Discontinuity Approach

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is one of the most widely used food assistance programs in the U.S. We estimate regression discontinuity models that leverage sharp changes in program benefits and eligibility in order to examine effects of the program on a wide range of health and nutrition outcomes. We focus on the effects of WIC on infants and children; on spillover effects from targeted children to other family members; and on the effects of changes in the composition and delivery of program benefits. (with M. Bitler, J. Currie, H. Hoynes, & L. Schulkind)

Non-Monetary Obstacles to Medical Care: Evidence from Postpartum Contraceptives

Since 2012, state Medicaid agencies have begun to offer increased reimbursement for inpatient postpartum long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). The reimbursement has come in the form of unbundling the device payment from the global hospital payment, i.e. reimbursing the hospital specifically for the insertion of LARC. We use variation across states and time to determine how the increased payments affect LARC use, fertility, and adverse birth outcomes. Preliminary event studies indicate a slight decrease in fertility, as well as a decrease in pre-term delivery among unmarried and teenage mothers. Consistent with our hypothesis, these effects are concentrated among women who have previously given birth. (with M. Carlos)

Published Research

The Effect of Weight on Mental Health: New Evidence Using Genetic IVs

The causal effect of obesity on mental health has been largely ignored by economists. Using genetic variation in obesity predisposition, I instrument for BMI to determine the impact on measures of suicidality and depression. I find an effect of BMI on suicidal ideation but not other measures of mental health. This effect on suicidal ideation is concentrated in white women. Social stigma is the mechanism through which weight affects mental health.
Full Article

Pass-Through of a Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages at the Philadelphia International Airport

Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages have been proposed as a possible approach to prevent obesity and improve diets. A goal of the taxes is to increase prices and dissuade consumption, but the taxes are levied on beverage distributors, and it is unclear how much of the tax is passed through to consumers as higher retail prices vs being paid by distributors or manufacturers. We estimate the extent to which the tax of 1.5 cents/oz. on SSBs in Philadelphia (implemented on Jan. 1, 2017) raised retail prices. (with J. Cawley and D. Frisvold)
Full Article