Research on Health Insurance Coverage

The second in the triumvirate of chapters on health insurance in this year’s Anthology looks at Foundation-supported research. Carolyn Newbergh, a freelance journalist and contributor of many chapters to the Anthology series, examines the research that the Foundation has funded on health insurance and on the uninsured. This includes research on just about every aspect of health insurance, including the economics of insuring employees of small businesses; the number of uninsured and who they are; the consequences of being uninsured on people’s health; and various proposals to cover the uninsured. The Foundation and its grantees have given the results of this research broad distribution through articles in professional journals, issue briefs, speeches, and conference presentations, among other means.

Although the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation may be the most prolific funder of health insurance-related research, it is far from the only one. The Commonwealth Fund gives high priority to research on the uninsured; the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation funds its own research and disseminates the research of others on its Web site; the California HealthCare Foundation and The California Endowment support research on health insurance in California; and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts funded research that helped advance that state’s health insurance reforms. And this is only the research funded by a sampling of private foundations; it does not take into account research funded by the Census Bureau, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other federal agencies, state governments, insurance companies, labor unions and trade organizations.

Clearly, there is considerable research on coverage. The question the chapter raises is, has research had an effect on policy? Newbergh explores this toward the beginning and the end of the chapter, along with two related questions: first, whether the nonpartisan research the Foundation funds is geared to influencing policy and, second, whether policy change is the right measure of the effectiveness of research (or whether simply getting the facts out and influencing the course of the dialogue and debate is itself a sufficient justification). Thus, the chapter not only traces the major strands of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded research but also explores pertinent issues related to the importance of research on health insurance. In the mix, it provides a brief summary of many of the important findings that have emerged from Foundation-funded research.