Mental Health, Health Behaviors, and Public Policies: Unintended Consequences
Mental health problems, poor health behaviors, and poverty impose substantial costs on individuals and broader society in terms of healthcare use, employment problems, violence, and so forth. In response, governments have implemented public policies designed to improve these outcomes and, in turn, reduce associated social costs. A concern with any public policy is that it effectively improves the targeted outcome but does not lead to unintended consequences which may offset the benefits of the policy. This session is composed of three papers that apply rigorous econometric methods to study potential unintended consequences of public policies. Paper 1 paper seeks to determine the effect of mandatory seatbelt laws on organ donation. Seatbelt laws are designed to save lives in traffic accidents, but may also reduce the supply of organs available for donation. Paper 2 will examine the impact of welfare program participation on children’s mental health. Although welfare programs aim to improve the lives of low income families, stigma associated with program participation may lead to mental health problems among participants. Paper 3 attempts to determine the relationship between health insurance expansions for mental health treatment services and organ donation via reductions in violent deaths. Expanded access to insurance coverage for mental health treatment services can improve mental health and associated violence, but may reduce organ donation as violent deaths are an important source of donated cadavers. Collectively these studies offer new evidence on the unintended impacts of public policies and provide information for policy makers.