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Department of Health Policy and Management faculty part of two projects picked to receive X-Grants funding

Benjamin D. Ukert, PhD, and Hye-Chung Kum, PhD, serve as lead and co-lead on projects funded by the interdisciplinary program

The Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health had two research projects among the eight selected to share $7 million in funding from the Division of Research’s X-Grants program.

The X-Grants program is an initiative of the 10-year, $100 million President’s Excellence Fund and is an interdisciplinary program designed to bring faculty together across disciplines. The goal of the program is to unlock creative and imaginative ideas that will address important problems in areas that will significantly impact the most important challenges facing global society.

Benjamin D. Ukert, PhD, assistant professor, is the lead on “Understanding the Impact of Expansion of Health Insurance Coverage in Texas on Financial Well-being,” which was awarded $325,000 for two years.

Hye-Chung Kum, PhD, professor, is the co-lead on “Effective Real-world Telemonitoring of Chronic Disease for the Underserved,” which was awarded $1 million over three years. Her co-lead is Mark Lawley, PhD, professor, from the Wm Michael Barnes ’64 Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the Texas A&M College of Engineering. The project also includes Ukert and Cason D. Schmit, assistant professor in Health Policy and Management, as well as Qi Zheng from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

How has the Affordable Care Act affected Texans’ physical and financial health?

Ukert’s project focuses on components of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that were implemented in 2014 in Texas. The ACA expanded health insurance coverage to millions of previously uninsured individuals across the United States through the individual marketplace and the Medicaid expansion. In Texas, increases in insurance coverage as part of the ACA were driven by the individual marketplace that provides access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance plans for working age adults without employer sponsored insurance. Since 2014, about one million individuals have gained coverage through the ACA marketplaces each year.

Ukert and his colleagues, Benjamin Klopack (economics), Ray Korok (business administration), and Xinyue Ye, (landscape architecture and urban planning), set forth four objectives for their project. First, they will evaluate the effect of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance expansion on the use of hospital care and patient insurance status in Texas. Second, they will evaluate the impact of the ACA on financial health of individuals. Third, they will investigate how the ACA affected the financial performance and technology adoption of hospitals, and fourth, they will evaluate spatial inequality in the impact of the ACA on the aforementioned outcomes.

“This is an exciting project to better understand how the Affordable Care Act has affected the physical and financial health of Texans and hospitals,” Ukert said. “We look forward to contributing evidence that can inform future Texas health policy.”

How can telemonitoring better serve the underserved?

Kum’s project is a mixed-method approach comprised of three aims to develop a more effective telemonitoring system with a focus on serving the underserved. The first part of the project focuses on surveying patients and providers to determine the barriers to telemonitoring for underserved populations. With this information, the team will focus on the cost-effectiveness of telemonitoring for the underserved and then will move into the final phase, building risk models.

“Through these three aims, the goal is to build an integrated knowledge so that we can better serve the underserved through telemonitoring,” Kum said. “We are trying to understand a lot more about what kind of a telemonitoring system design is effective, what are the characteristics of a cost-effective system, and how best to implement it.”

Although Kum and her colleagues have been working on telemonitoring for some time, she noted that the current COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for effective telemonitoring in health care.

“This is something that we have been working on way before COVID, but I think COVID has really brought to the forefront the importance of teleservices,” Kum said. “It has become even more timely to work on.”

In addition to Kum, Lawley and the three School of Public Health faculty members, the research team includes: Madhav Erraguntla (industrial and systems engineering), Sherecce Fields (psychology), Jack Mortazavi (computer science and engineering), and Farzan Sasangohar (industrial and systems engineering).

A total of 224 one-page proposals were submitted for the fourth round of the X-Grants program and those were narrowed down to 78 preliminary proposals. From there, 28 were selected to submit final proposals, and after oral presentations and reviews by three reviewers each, a panel met to select the eight proposals for funding.

The funded projects represent 73 Texas A&M faculty members and researchers from 13 colleges and schools: Agriculture & Life Sciences, Architecture, Business, Education & Human Development, Engineering, Law, Liberal Arts, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health, Science, and Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, plus the Global Health Research Complex, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and University Libraries.

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