Study that Changes Lives
Baylor researchers are studying people's expectations, seeking reforms in health care and helping governments around the globe improve their economies. Here is a look at research by professors and students that touches on almost every aspect of how people live.
Health Care For All
Earl Grinols and Jim Henderson have elaborated the details of a health care plan they say would work for the country and preserve both privacy and economic health. Phased in incrementally, it would offer a savings of 2.25 percent of Gross Domestic Product, balanced against 1 percent of additional costs.
It begins by enhancing the insurance market for people age 18-35, who are 40 percent of the uninsured.
A book written by Grinols and Henderson, Health Care for Us All: Getting More for Our Investment, offers reforms that include good health insurance made as cheap as it can possibly be. Good health insurance, which is their goal, includes provisions to deal with pre-existing conditions; guaranteed renewability; prohibitions against utilization gate keeping, which means the insurance company pays claims without trying to influence the care; and a rating by age and sex so the premiums are actuarially fair. "This means you pay for the insurance that you get, no more, no less," said Grinols.
The professors describe the plan as "personal, portable, permanent and responsive to the patient, not to the government and not to the insurance company." They propose that Congress should consider a plan to bring in four groups to start: both males and females in the 18-to-30 and 31-to-35 age groups.
They used the National Medical Care Utilization and Expenditure Survey to evaluate the costs of their proposal. This told them what each age-sex group spends on health care. Then they developed an insurance policy for each group that covered everything with a $1,000 deductible and a $2,000 out of pocket limit, plus a 15 percent handling charge for the insurance company. A 19- to-25-year-old male could expect to pay only $518 a year, ages 26 to 30 would pay $566 a year and ages 31 to 35 would pay $959 a year. Women the same age would pay more because they use more health care, but the costs of insurance would be as low as they could be for each group.
"This would put the country on a balanced path of every age group paying for its own health care every year," Grinols said.
As a social marketer, Jeff Tanner has researched the effectiveness of sexual abstinence programs and documented one that reduced teen pregnancy-Worth the Wait in Amarillo. He has reported the results both to the program administrators and to the Family Youth Service Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Tanner said the results of the program included an overall teen pregnancy reduction of 32 percent in the five-county area for the period studied, 2001 to 2003, compared to a 19 percent overall reduction in the geographic area. Tanner said that's almost twice the decline compared to the rest of the area because of Worth the Wait, which provides abstinence education in the schools and promotes screening for sexually transmitted diseases. It also provided education to health care practitioners and used a multi-media campaign.
"Research shows that abstinence education continues to have impact," he said.
One way to magnify impact is publication in academic journals, Tanner noted. "Some publications refuse to review the topic because it is politically charged," he said. "I point out that it's a scientific question worthy of study and we need to quit worrying about politics, but that argument is not always successful." The Worth the Wait study, though, was published last year by Health Care Marketing.
Integrating Family and Work
Integration of work and family life has been Dawn Carlson's goal since her first job, when she noticed coworkers spending "an inordinate amount of time away from their families." Since then, the professor of Management and Entrepreneurship has focused on helping people manage the competing roles of work and family. She examined companies that had done a great job as she learned how she would balance her own work and family.
Her new focus on the subject shows how the roles often enrich one another-how work can benefit family and how family experiences give workers satisfaction. She has probed data showing that an empathetic spouse can make a person a better worker, and she has measured the physical and mental health demands of working mothers with new babies.
Carlson gets queries about her book, Beyond Juggling, from individuals and corporate executives. She notes that while most managers don't want to meddle, they know helping workers can help the organization by creating a family-friendly work environment.
Jim Roberts, professor of Marketing, studies material possessions and their connection with quality of life. His research shows that the more materialistic people are, the less satisfied they are with everything else.
He organized the areas he surveyed into eight "Life Domains." He and a graduate student surveyed 400 adults across the U.S., ages 18 to 80, and asked them 15 questions about materialism and then asked how satisfied they were with their lives in these eight areas: family, friends, themselves, place of residence, their health, "fun" pursuits, paychecks, and jobs.
Roberts said the study reflects a connection between materialism and satisfaction with life. "It was astounding," he said. "Without exception, people who were more materialistic were less satisfied with every part of their life."
A lifelong student of Russia, Steve Gardner examined how to help neighboring Kazakhstan build one of the top national economies in the world. He determined of all the actions possible, one stood out: addressing high infant mortality.
Because of his work, Gardner, department chair of Economics, was invited to speak at a nationally televised conference with leaders of the Kazakh government. He presented the report, "Kazakhstan: Building a Competitive Economy and Defeating the Resource Curse." Kazakhstan's abundant oil and gas resources, he argued, can be a source of strength or they can become a "curse" that sustains high-level corruption and interferes with the development of other sectors.
But reducing the high infant mortality rate by broadening access to prenatal care and women's nutrition was one of many positive steps the country could take. "Preventive care is not always cheap, but in a certain sense, prenatal care is a negative cost item," he said. "Research by my colleagues at Baylor shows that access to prenatal care can pay for itself quickly by reducing the cost of other public health programs."
Investing for the Future
Bill Reichenstein, a Finance professor who studies tax-based investment strategies, advises people how to use the tax code to get the most out of invested savings. His biggest focus recently has been getting people to think about how to convert retirement funds from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. As of this year, there is no income limitation to converting.
Reichenstein urges careful consideration of investments to affect quality of life in retirement. He concentrates on tax-based strategies and encourages people to distinguish between pre- and after-tax dollars when calculating asset allocation. For example, each pre-tax dollar in a 401(k) is smaller than each after-tax dollar in a Roth account. "The asset allocation decision is the most important financial decision you will make, so we should make sure we calculate it accurately," he said. In addition, his research concludes that individuals should generally hold bonds in retirement accounts and stocks in taxable accounts, while attaining their desired asset allocation.
He also advises people on withdrawal strategies. "If you take money out in a certain sequence, you can make it last longer," he said. Retiree Income is developing software based on his ideas. For more information, see www.retireeinc.com.