J-PAL North America launches MIT Roybal Center for Translational Research to Improve Health Care for the Aging

With support from the National Institute on Aging, J-PAL North America, a research center in the MIT Department of Economics, recently launched the MIT Roybal Center for Translational Research to Improve Health Care for the Aging. The center will support randomized evaluations of low-cost, high-impact behavioral interventions to improve health-care delivery and health outcomes for older adults in the United States.

According to the National Council on Aging, more than 25 million Americans over the age of 60 are economically insecure, living at below 250 percent of the federal poverty line ($2,452 per month for one person). In addition to experiencing high rates of poverty, the aging population interacts with the health-care system more frequently and experiences high rates of chronic disease and other illnesses.

However, these challenges are not insurmountable and can be effectively addressed through the right policies and reforms. Health-care delivery interventions, for example, have the potential to dramatically improve health outcomes and reduce the cost of health care for the aging population, and especially for aging individuals experiencing poverty. Yet, more research is needed to identify effective interventions that can help improve the health of this population. 

To fill this knowledge gap, the MIT Roybal Center will support pilot randomized evaluations of low-cost, high-impact behavioral interventions aimed at improving health-care delivery and health outcomes for aging individuals. Past Roybal-funded pilots have examined interventions such as novel incentive structures to attract and retain wellness program participants, and behavioral strategies to increase physical activity. J-PAL’s network of affiliated researchers will be able to apply for up to $50,000 of funding through the MIT Roybal Center.

“Over the last seven years, J-PAL North America’s health sector has focused on building an evidence base around policy interventions that make health care more effective, efficient, and equitable. Becoming a Roybal center will allow J-PAL North America to expand this evidence base to have a greater focus on aging individuals,” says Amy Finkelstein, the John and Jennie S. MacDonald Professor of Economics and co-chair of the MIT Roybal Center. “This population — one that is more likely to interact with the health system and experience poverty — stands to really benefit from the types of low-cost behavioral interventions that the center’s research will focus on.”

As co-chairs, Finkelstein and Marcella Alsan, professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, will help build the MIT Roybal Center’s research agenda and will oversee the proposal review process. Additionally, an advisory committee of six members, including three physicians, will review study proposals and provide strategic guidance. The MIT Roybal Center aims to leverage the interdisciplinary expertise of the advisory committee to ensure that the research funded by the center is implementable, policy-relevant, and meeting the needs of the aging population.

“The center will be anchored by an interdisciplinary advisory committee with representatives from the health care and policy communities. Supporting interdisciplinary research is a priority for the center and we look forward to forging new partnerships that cut across disciplines to identify the most effective policy solutions,” Alsan says.

One of 15 Roybal centers in the United States, the MIT Roybal Center was made possible with support from a five-year P30 center grant from the National Institute of Aging. Those interested in learning more about the MIT Roybal Center are encouraged to contact center Manager Hannah Reuter.