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What Did Medicare Do (And Was It Worth It)?

  • Amy Finkelstein
  • Robin McKnight

We study the impact of the introduction of one of the major pillars of the social insurance system in the United States: the introduction of Medicare in 1965. Our results suggest that, in its first 10 years, the establishment of universal health insurance for the elderly had no discernible impact on their mortality. However, we find that the introduction of Medicare was associated with a substantial reduction in the elderly%u2019s exposure to out of pocket medical expenditure risk. Specifically, we estimate that Medicare%u2019s introduction is associated with a forty percent decline in out of pocket spending for the top quartile of the out of pocket spending distribution. A stylized expected utility framework suggests that the welfare gains from such reductions in risk exposure alone may be sufficient to cover between half and three-quarters of the costs of the Medicare program. These findings underscore the importance of considering the direct insurance benefits from public health insurance programs, in addition to any indirect benefits from an effect on health.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11609.

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Date of creation: Sep 2005
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Publication status: published as Finkelstein, Amy and Robin McKnight. "What Did Medicare Do? The Initial Impact of Medicare on Mortality and Out of Pocket Medical Spending." Journal of Public Economics 92 (2008): 1644-1669.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11609
Note: AG HC PE
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  1. Sherry Glied & Joshua Zivin, 2000. "How Do Doctors Behave When Some (But Not All) of Their Patients are in Managed Care?," NBER Working Papers 7907, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Amy Finkelstein, 2005. "The Aggregate Effects of Health Insurance: Evidence from the Introduction of Medicare," NBER Working Papers 11619, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. James M. Poterba, 1996. "Government Intervention in the Markets for Education and Health Care: How and Why?," NBER Chapters, in: Individual and Social Responsibility: Child Care, Education, Medical Care, and Long-Term Care in America, pages 277-308 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. Jay Bhattacharya & Darius Lakdawalla, 2002. "Does Medicare Benefit the Poor? New Answers to an Old Question," NBER Working Papers 9280, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Marianne P. Bitler & Jonah B. Gelbach & Hilary W. Hoynes, 2006. "What Mean Impacts Miss: Distributional Effects of Welfare Reform Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 988-1012, September.
  9. David Card & Carlos Dobkin & Nicole Maestas, 2004. "The Impact of Nearly Universal Insurance Coverage on Health Care Utilization and Health: Evidence from Medicare," Working Papers 197, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  10. Hubbard, R Glenn & Skinner, Jonathan & Zeldes, Stephen P, 1995. "Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(2), pages 360-99, April.
  11. Gruber, Jonathan, 1997. "The Consumption Smoothing Benefits of Unemployment Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(1), pages 192-205, March.
  12. Olivia S. Mitchell, 1999. "New Evidence on the Money's Worth of Individual Annuities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1299-1318, December.
  13. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," NBER Working Papers 8841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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