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Spousal Labor Market Effects from Government Health Insurance: Evidence from a Veterans Affairs Expansion

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  • Melissa A. Boyle
  • Joanna N. Lahey

Abstract

Measuring the overall impact of public health insurance receipt is important in an era of increased access to publicly-provided and subsidized insurance. Although government expansion of health insurance to older workers leads to labor supply reductions for recipients, there may be spillover effects on the labor supply of uncovered spouses. While theory predicts a decrease in overall household work hours, financial incentives such as credit constraints, target income levels, and the need for own health insurance suggest that spousal labor supply might increase. In contrast, complementarities of spousal leisure would predict a decrease in labor supply for both spouses. Utilizing a mid-1990s expansion of health insurance for U.S. veterans, we provide evidence on the effects of public insurance availability on the labor supply of spouses. Using data from the Current Population Survey and Health and Retirement Study, we employ a difference-in-differences strategy to compare the labor market behavior of the wives of older male veterans and non-veterans before and after the VA health benefits expansion. Our findings suggest that although household labor supply may decrease because of the income effect, wives' labor supply increases, suggesting that financial incentives dominate complementarities of spousal leisure. This effect is strongest for wives with lower education levels and lower levels of household wealth. Moreover, wives with employer-provided health insurance in the previous year remain on the job while those without increase their hours, suggesting incentives to retain or obtain health insurance. Finally, non-working wives enter the labor force, those who were working part-time increase their hours, and full-time "career" women are largely unaffected.

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  • Melissa A. Boyle & Joanna N. Lahey, 2014. "Spousal Labor Market Effects from Government Health Insurance: Evidence from a Veterans Affairs Expansion," NBER Working Papers 20371, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20371
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    1. repec:spr:jlabre:v:38:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s12122-017-9258-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:mrr:papers:wp341 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Nga Le Thi Quynh & Groot, Wim & Tomini, Sonila M. & Tomini, Florian, 2017. "Effects of health insurance on labour supply: A systematic review," MERIT Working Papers 017, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H42 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Publicly Provided Private Goods
    • I13 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Insurance, Public and Private
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies

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