Economics Thesis Spotlight: Marina Thornton ‘20

Thorton's research examines the impact of health Insurance and health shocks on labor supply decisions

headshot of Marina Thornton
Marina Thornton ’20

Name: Marina Thornton ’20

Major: Economics

Minors: Biology, Public Health and Policy Studies

Faculty mentor: Mark Kurt, associate professor of economics

Title of research: The Impact of Health Insurance and Health Shocks on Labor Supply Decisions

Abstract: Health care, particularly health insurance, accounts for over $3 trillion dollars of spending in the United States (“The Budget and Economic Outlook”, 2018). Unlike other developed countries, there is no universal health care program in the US, and many consumers have to make decisions about which program to choose and how they will obtain it. Medicaid is a type of insurance targeted to the poor and disabled and this coverage alone cost the country $583 billion dollars (Berchick, Barnett, & Upton, 2018).

The most common choices for health insurance are employer-based followed by Medicaid, making up 55.1 percent and 17.8 percent of the population respectively (Berchick et al.). It’s important to compare these two major plans because one is connected with labor, and one is not. This in turn could provide evidence about how workers might be impacted by a health shock based on their health insurance plan.

The aim of this paper is to compare individuals with employer-based health insurance versus those with Medicaid and analyze the difference in hours worked among both populations following a health shock. Many studies focus solely on one insurance type. This paper adds to the literature with an empirical evaluation of both major health insurance plans for individuals, and how they interact with health shocks and ultimately labor supply decisions. Data will be taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997.

Preliminary results indicate that individuals who experience a negative health shock increase their hours worked, compared to individuals who experience a positive health shock, which is opposite of what would be expected.

In other words: I’m looking at individuals who have the two major health insurance plans, employer-based health insurance and Medicaid, and comparing the differences in their hours worked after they’ve experienced a health shock. It is hypothesized that individuals who have Medicaid would decrease their hours worked after a health shock since their employment is not tied to their health insurance, compared to individuals with employer-based health insurance who would continue working full time in order to receive benefits.

Marina presenting in front of audience
Marina Thornton ’20 presents her research at the 2020 Eastern Economic Association Conference in Boston.

Explanation of study/potential impact of findings: So far, the preliminary results suggest the opposite of what’s hypothesized. Individuals who have Medicaid and experience a negative health shock increase their hours worked, compared to individuals who experience a positive health shock. Further research will be done using a different measurement for a health shock rather than self-reported health status, to see if the results are more significant.

Why did you pick this topic?

Starting out at Elon, I was a biology major with the intention of pursuing physician assistant school after graduation. Because of this, many of my experiences have been associated with health care, so I knew I wanted my research to concentrate on this interest. I focused in on health insurance because it was becoming a popular topic with the presidential election, and I was interested in learning more about how it works and it impacts people’s decisions based on the fact that there is no universal health plan in the U.S.

How has your mentor impacted you/your research process?

Dr. Kurt has guided me a lot in developing my research question and understanding the theory surrounding my topic. He has also helped me with the data aspect, from figuring out what data source to use to interpreting the results that I got. Most importantly, he has reminded me that this whole experience is more about the learning process along the way, from the initial question to the presentation of the findings, rather than the results themselves and whether they’re significant or not.