The national budget is wobbling under the weight of ever-higher costs as the population ages and poor people lack adequate resources to cover their own medical bills. An expensive national health care program such as Obamacare or its potential Republican replacement can help ease the burden, but it’s not a solution.
Strangely, education might be the long-term answer. Academic research indicates direct relationships exist between education rates and health outcomes. St. Louis-area economics professors Gail and Rik Hafer suggest that Americans on the lower ends of the education scale also tend to show up on the more expensive end of the health care scale.
Gail Heyne Hafer is an economics professor at St. Louis Community College-Meramec. Rik Hafer is director of the Center for Economics and Environment at Lindenwood University. They looked at today’s social outcomes across Missouri counties for young people who attended high school in the 1990s.
Not surprisingly, incomes of these individuals earned tended to track with their educational attainment. More surprisingly, higher educational attainment tended to lead to smarter health decisions. Counties with high numbers of high school dropouts in the 1990s, for example, wound up with larger percentages of adults who smoke now. The reverse happened in counties with higher education levels.
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Smokers have higher risk rates for cancer, diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and stroke, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
The Hafers looked at obesity rates, which didn’t correlate as starkly with education levels as they did for smoking. But it was still clear: The higher the educational attainment, the lower the rate of obesity.
Other studies have produced comparable results. Regardless of how Congress tries to fix the health insurance dilemma, America’s medical bills aren’t magically going to disappear. Research suggests a long-term solution is greater investment in education.
Better-educated people tend to exercise more often and make smarter lifestyle and health decisions. Those decisions are more likely to reduce their need for the kinds of expensive treatments that are driving up health insurance costs for everyone.
The Hafers, who published their findings in a Show-Me Institute essay last month, also suggest that when parents lead by example on education and health choices, their children tend to follow the same path. An effective way for America to avoid drowning in future health care costs tomorrow is to start boosting the investment in education today.
Sadly, President Donald Trump proposes to go in the opposite direction with a budget plan that would cut federal education spending by 13.5 percent, even though Trump complains about lousy educational outcomes and ever-increasing health care costs. We know he’s not big on reading, but someone smart should slip a summary of the Hafers’ study onto his desk.