Education’s power as a social determinant of health is resident in the doors it unlocks to future well-being.
Educational attainment not only can predict employment and income, but also can influence where someone lives—and whether they can afford health care. For example, the health of people who leave high school without a diploma can be adversely affected by their inability to get a job that offers health benefits, putting them at higher risk for a number of health-damaging conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.
Education is linked with health through three interrelated pathways: health knowledge and behaviors, employment and income, and social and psychological factors.
Education can increase people’s knowledge and cognitive skills, enabling them to make better-informed choices among the health-related options available to themselves and their families. Higher educational attainment is linked with higher-paying jobs, which allow individuals to live in environments encouraging and enabling healthy behaviors.
Additionally, better-paying jobs offer greater economic security and increased ability to accumulate wealth, enabling individuals to obtain health care when needed. One in four American adults without a high school diploma is enrolled in Medicaid. Despite rising high school graduation rates, disparities in such rates persist among racial and ethnic groups. Although the U.S. high school graduation rate was 84 percent in 2016, Latinos, African Americans, and American Indian and Alaska Natives lag behind Caucasian students. According to Terri Wright, Director of American Public Health Association’s Center for School, Health and Education, “We know those who drop out of high school are most likely to practice risky behaviors as adults and are most likely to have multiple health issues as adults.” Therefore, federal health officials made high school graduation rates a priority in Healthy People 2020, outlining goals to increase education and quality of instruction for children.
This report briefly outlines how some education and labor policies focus on populations similar to the covered Medicaid population, explores how SNHPs provide support for education and employment activities for Medicaid enrollees, and provides policy recommendations to address the issue.