Recessions and seniors’ health, health behaviors, and healthcare use: Analysis of the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey
A number of studies report that U.S. state mortality rates, particularly for the elderly, decline during economic downturns. Further, several prior studies use microdata to show that as state unemployment rates rise, physical health improves, unhealthy behaviors decrease, and medical care use declines. We use data on elderly mortality rates and data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey from a time period that encompasses the start of the Great Recession. We find that elderly mortality is countercyclical during most of the 1994–2008 period. Further, as unemployment rates rise, seniors report worse mental health and are no more likely to engage in healthier behaviors. We find suggestive evidence that inpatient utilization increases perhaps because of an increased physician willingness to accept Medicare patients. Our findings suggest that either elderly individuals respond differently to recessions than do working age adults, or that the relationship between unemployment and health has changed.
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