Can we spend less on health by investing in education?

New policy briefs show business leaders and state and federal policymakers the health benefits of investing in education

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Americans without a high school diploma are living sicker, shorter lives than they did in the 1990s, and spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid is expected to steadily rise each year over the next decade.

new set of policy briefs released this month by the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health explores how investments in education are investments in health — and can potentially lower health care spending. The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Key data points on “Education and Health: The Return on Investment in Education”:

  • If the health status of less-educated Americans were the same as that of their college-educated peers, the improvements in health would save over a $1 trillion annually.

  • Diabetes alone costs Medicare and Medicaid nearly $110 billion annually, and is over three times more prevalent among people with less than a high school education than among those with a bachelor’s degree.

  • Halving the number of 20-year-olds who do not complete high school could save up to $45 billion across multiple sectors, including health, criminal justice and welfare.

  • Illness-related productivity losses, which occur more often among workers with less education, cost U.S. employers $323.1 billion in 2013. 

The briefs­­­ — aimed at business leaders and state and federal policymakers — shed light on how investments in education lead to a more productive workforce and also longer, healthier lives.   

They are part of the Center on Society and Health's “Education and Health Initiative,” a program to raise awareness about the links between education and health. Read the previous briefs: The Growing Importance of EducationExploring the Causes, and Health Care: Necessary, But Not Sufficient.