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Matt Carlson
Matt Carlson

Ensuring Health

Measuring the benefits of health coverage

In 2009, the state of Oregon launched the Oregon Healthy Kids program to provide health care for all children in the state. PSU sociology professor Matt Carlson is part of the effort to evaluate the program. He specializes in long-term studies, using periodic surveys to measure the effectiveness of government policy changes like Oregon Healthy Kids.

“All of my work involves looking at low-income populations,” Carlson says, “and trying to understand their barriers to care and the importance of having health insurance.”

Carlson is a founding member of the Oregon Health Research and Evaluation Collaborative (OHREC), which also includes faculty from PSU’s Hatfield School of Government, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, Providence Center for Outcomes Research, and the state’s Medicaid and Health Policy agencies. This cooperation among educational institutions and government agencies has become a national model, as other states try to replicate OHREC’s success in helping policy-makers understand what really works.

“We happen to have a group of committed individuals,” Carlson says, “who are willing to collaborate rather than compete.”

Since 2003, Carlson has been looking at the effects of health coverage by studying people enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan. When a lottery was recently held to add a few thousand new people to the plan, Carlson had a unique opportunity. Since the newly insured Oregonians were randomly selected, he could get a scientifically valid picture of the effects of health insurance by following those who were and were not randomly selected to receive a Medicaid application. He’s just finished collecting 12 months of data, and will report back to Salem comparing access to health care, use of emergency rooms, health status, and other factors between the two groups.

Carlson has already seen enough, though, to convince him of the importance of health insurance in the lives of Oregonians. “I want to make sure we do everything we can to get uninsured kids covered,” he says, “because it does matter. We know that when people have insurance they’ll receive care. And when they don’t, they won’t.”

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