RWJF Scholar Adds “Impact Award” to Collection of Prizes

A study by RWJF Investigator Amy Finkelstein and others was lauded in February for injecting scientific evidence into the fiery political debate about the effectiveness of Medicaid coverage.

    • February 7, 2013

Amy Finkelstein is on her way to becoming the Jackie Joyner-Kersee of the economics profession, collecting some of the field’s most prestigious awards like so many medals around her neck.

In the two decades since she began college, Finkelstein, PhD, a professor of economics at MIT and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) grantee, has acquired more than 30 awards, grants, and fellowships for her unique and influential research, teaching, and student advising skills, and her academic record and potential.

She added one more award to the pile this month, when she and her colleagues were recognized for a groundbreaking study they published in 2012 about the effects of Medicaid on low-income people. The Health Services Research Impact Award was presented to Finkelstein and her colleagues on Feb. 4 by Academy Health, a national organization that offers services to support health services and policy research.

“One is always incredibly honored by this type of recognition by the profession,” said Finkelstein, who also serves as co-director of the Public Economics Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research; co-editor of the Journal of Public Economics; and as a member of the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Finkelstein, 39, is not new to this kind of honor. Last year, she received the John Bates Clark medal, which is given to American economists under the age of 40. The award is considered second only to the Nobel Prize in terms of prestige, and 12 of the 34 who have received it have gone on to earn the Nobel later in their careers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In 2009, Finkelstein won a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on budding science and engineering professionals. And in 2008, she won the American Economic Association’s Elaine Bennett Research Prize, which is awarded biennially to junior female economists.

In 2003, RWJF gave her an Investigator Award in Health Policy Research to test economic theories to understand why most people opt against long-term-care insurance and instead choose to pay for that kind of care out-of-pocket.

Health Impact Award Honors Medicaid Study

The Health Services Research Impact Award she received earlier this month recognized the great value of a study she co-led that showed that Medicaid improved the health of previously uninsured, low-income people. The study found that Medicaid recipients are more likely to use health care services, have fewer out-of-pocket expenses and debt, and say they are in better physical and mental health than the uninsured. It was the first randomized control study—the “gold standard” of scientific research—to assess the impact of Medicaid, and it came amid intense debate over federal spending levels for the program. When it was released in July 2011, it got a shout-out from the White House blog, which published a post quoting a columnist who called it “the most important health care experiment since the 1970s.”

“What’s really exciting about our study is it’s a randomized trial,” Finkelstein said. “Rather than speculating on what we think the effects of Medicaid might be, we can actually see them.”

Finkelstein and Katherine Baicker, PhD, a professor of health economics at Harvard and the co-principal investigator of the study, are following up with another study that will use data from 12,000 individual interviews and health examinations, to further explore the impact of Medicaid. The study team is also analyzing detailed administrative data from emergency departments to determine utilization patterns among people with Medicaid, compared to people who are not in the program.

Whatever the results, they are sure to get attention—and could lead to more accolades for the bright, young star of economics. While humbled by the awards, Finkelstein is also gratified to see that “high quality scientific evidence really does occupy a special place in academic and policy discourse, as it should.”

Read an article about Finkelstein’s study on the effects of Medicaid here.
Read a Q&A with Finkelstein on the RWJF Human Capital Blog here.
Read more about the RWJF Investigators Award in Health Policy Research.
For an overview of RWJF scholar and fellow opportunities, visit www.RWJFLeaders.org.