About seven years ago, Sarah Lieff became interested in why patients with serious mental disorders rarely received the services that could help them. At the time, she was evaluating a program for a large Brooklyn hospital that integrated physical and mental health care and wraparound services for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other serious mental disorders. Through focus groups, she learned that affordability was a major barrier that kept people from receiving mental health services. When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act resulted in 38 states expanding Medicaid to cover more people and more types of benefits, including mental health services, Lieff recognized it as a natural experiment and research opportunity.
For her dissertation at the New York University School of Global Public Health, Lieff is examining the relationship between the Medicaid expansion and mental health treatment for low-income adults with mental health conditions. She wants to know if access to and quality of treatment improved in states that expanded Medicaid, and whether any improvements also addressed disparities in mental health care treatment among Black and Latinx residents.
Lieff is one of two doctoral students continuing their research through a 12-week summer fellowship at Mathematica.
Lieff and her counterpart in the summer fellowship, Rachel Perera, spoke with On the Evidence about the questions they’re pursuing and what they find appealing about applied research. They also explore how public policy research can play a role in reducing racial disparities in mental health care, education, and other policy areas.
Perera is pursuing a doctoral degree in policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Her research focuses on racial disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline. Specifically, she is examining complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against school districts for civil rights violations related to racial discrimination in school discipline. Perera wants to know whether being investigated by the Office for Civil Rights has an effect on a school district’s overall discipline rates, racial disproportionalities in discipline, and other student outcomes, such as racial achievement gaps.
Listen to the full interview with Lieff and Perera below.
A version of the full episode with closed captioning is also available on Mathematica’s YouTube channel here.