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Consequences of SCHIP Expansions for Household Well-Being

Publication Abstract

Leininger, Lindsey, Helen Levy, and Diane Schanzenbach. 2010. "Consequences of SCHIP Expansions for Household Well-Being." Forum for Health Economics & Policy, 13(1).

About 7.4 million children were covered by the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) at some point during fiscal year 2008. Many of these children would probably have had private coverage in the absence of SCHIP; recent estimates of the extent of “crowd-out” associated with SCHIP are about 60 percent (Gruber and Simon 2008). The high rate of crowd-out means that the program is not as effective as it could be at reducing the number of uninsured children and has been a political liability for the program. Both political concerns and policy research focusing on crowd-out in SCHIP build on more than a decade of similar attention to the crowd-out associated with the Medicaid expansions of the late 1980s and early 1990s. While there is little doubt that expanding eligibility for public insurance to children who are not poor will lead some to substitute public for private coverage, this substitution should increase total resources available to these households in two ways. First, those who drop private coverage in order to enroll their children in SCHIP can take whatever they had been spending on health insurance and spend it on something else. Second, public insurance requires less cost-sharing than a typical private insurance policy, providing first-dollar coverage with minimal co-payments. This means that switching from private to public coverage reduces a family’s out-of-pocket medical spending, freeing up even more of the family’s resources for other uses. From the perspective of a low-income family, then, crowd-out is a windfall. In this paper we ask: what do these families do with the additional resources? We address this question with an empirical analysis of consumption data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey. We find that eligibility for SCHIP is associated with an increase in overall expenditure, and most of this increase is allocated to consumption of transportation or saving for retirement. These results suggest that the SCHIP expansions substantially improved the material well-being of the low-income families it is intended to assist – including those who had previously been paying for their own coverage. This evidence should allow a better accounting of the benefits and not just the costs of recent expansions in public health insurance programs.

Country of focus: United States.

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