One of the critical conclusions arising out of the drive toward pay-for-performance and coordinated care is the consensus view that many factors outside healthcare providers' responsibility have profound effects on health and healthcare costs.

Yet, few studies have rigorously examined the effects of family economic security policies, such as tax credits, minimum wage laws, and unemployment compensation on health and health behaviors. Now, a team from the University of Florida's Institute for Child Health Policy and Temple University's Public Health Law Research Program has developed new methods for analyzing policy effects using the program's national policy surveillance website, LawAtlas.org.

The research team is pioneering new ways to evaluate the effects of various social policies on health. In particular, legal scholars systematically code individual aspects of different policies that are then quantitatively analyzed across time and states, where variations of laws are enacted.

For instance, the researchers examined unemployment compensation laws by coding the maximum weekly benefit, how the benefit amount was calculated, the maximum benefit duration, and the base period of eligibility in all 50 states across the past 35 years. This coding facilitates detailed scientific evaluation of how particular provisions within unemployment compensation laws affect health and health behaviors. The team is currently analyzing the data for future publications.

“Our approach is more granular than studies to date, where normally whole policies are analyzed for impacts rather than looking at particular provisions within the laws,” said Scott Burris, director of the Public Health Law Research Program, who has collaborated with University of Florida faculty on multiple endeavors. “Our team’s methods blend policy analysis with statistical analysis to not only find out whether a law impacts health but also to better understand why and how.”

LawAtlas will house a growing number of data sets on family economic policies from 1980 to the present in an open-access format for scholars to use. The first data set, on state-by-state differences in minimum wage laws, is already complete, with analyses of state laws on earned income tax credit, unemployment compensation and temporary assistance to needy families in progress.

The first paper from this effort, which details past research, the new data collection methods and future directions for the field, and was published in the journal Health Behavior & Policy Review, is available here.

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