Professor Receives Grant to Study Immigrant Medicaid Usage

June 16, 2009

Dr. Daphne Hernandez, assistant professor of human development and family studies, has received a $75,000, twenty-five-month grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) through the New Connections program to study immigrants’ health insurance.

Hernandez is analyzing data that should provide a sense of how effective expanded state coverage is in providing increased health care coverage. She is working with data from two major surveys, the New Immigrant Survey (NIS) and the 2004 Current Population Survey (CPS). NIS, administered through Princeton University, targeted 12,500 immigrants and reported on individual and demographic data, such as education level, difficulty of visa process, family structure, English language proficiency, household income, and region of origin. CPS, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, provides state-by-state data on health insurance coverage.

Hernandez is concerned with whether or not immigrants use Medicaid for their health insurance if it is available to them. In 1996, the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) changed federal eligibility for Medicaid access. In order to be eligible for Medicaid, a person had to have been a U.S. citizen for five years. In 2004, fourteen states opted to provide funds to cover immigrant parents’ Medicaid costs, essentially overriding PRWORA.

“There are over 35 million immigrants in the United States today, and of that group, nearly a third is uninsured,” says Hernandez.

Hernandez is hoping to see patterns in whether or not immigrants opt to use state-funded Medicaid. If they are not using that opportunity, Hernandez will be looking for reasons at the individual level that will explain why.

“Through this research, I hope to inform policy makers which population groups are actually being covered by Medicaid, and whether or not the current policies are effective,” says Hernandez. “If policies are not effective, information on individuals may give us more clues as to why.”

Hernandez’s  mentor during the project will be Dr. Pamela Farley Short, professor of health policy and administration, who is a renowned expert in public/private insurance and coverage.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Hernandez to a program that reflects the Foundation’s commitment to increasing the diversity in our grant making and in the broader fields of health research,” says Debra Pérez, Ph.D., M.P.A., M.A., the director of the New Connections program.

"The grant is providing me an opportunity to make a professional transition into studying health care and health issues of immigrants. I look forward to receiving health policy training along with mentorship from public health scholars," says Hernandez.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful, and timely change. For more than thirty years the foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. Helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need—the Foundation expects to make a difference in our lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.

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Editors: Daphne Hernandez can be reached at dch19@psu.edu or 814-867-2245. For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.