The Health Effects of Medicare for the Near-Elderly Uninsured

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Abstract

Objective.

To determine whether Medicare enrollment at age 65 has an effect on the health trajectory of the near-elderly uninsured.

Data Sources.

Eight biennial waves (1992-2006) of the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative panel survey of noninstitutionalized 51-61 year olds and their spouses.

Study Design.

We use a quasi-experimental approach to compare the health effects of insurance for the near-elderly uninsured with previously insured contemporaneous controls. The primary outcome measure is overall self-reported health status combined with mortality (i.e., excellent to very good, good, fair to poor, dead).

Results.

The change in the trajectory of overall health status for the previously uninsured that can be attributed to Medicare is small and not statistically significant. For every 100 persons in the previously uninsured group, joining Medicare is associated with 0.6 fewer in excellent or very good health (95 percent CI: −4.8, 3.3), 0.3 more in good health (95 percent CI: −3.8, 4.1), 2.5 fewer in fair or poor health (95 percent CI: −7.4, 2.3), and 2.8 more dead (−4.0, 10.0) by age 73. The health trajectory patterns from physician objective health measures are similarly small and not statistically significant.

Conclusions.

Medicare coverage at age 65 for the previously uninsured is not linked to improvements in overall health status.

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