Targeting with In-kind Transfers: Evidence from Medicaid Home Care

Ethan M.J. Lieber, Lee M. Lockwood

NBER Working Paper No. 24267
Issued in January 2018, Revised in March 2018
NBER Program(s):Aging, Health Care, Public Economics

Many of the most important government programs make transfers in kind as opposed to in cash. Making transfers in kind has the obvious cost that recipients would often prefer cost-equivalent cash transfers. But making transfers in kind can have benefits as well, including better targeting transfers to desired recipients or states of the world. In this paper, we develop a framework for evaluating this tradeoff and apply it to home care. Exploiting large-scale randomized experiments run by three state Medicaid programs, we find that in-kind provision of formal home care significantly reduces the value of benefits to recipients while targeting benefits to a small fraction of the eligible population that has greater demand for formal home care, is sicker, and has worse informal care options than the average eligible. Under a wide range of assumptions within a standard model, the targeting benefit of in-kind provision exceeds the distortion cost. This highlights an important cost of recent reforms that move toward more flexible, cash-like benefits.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24267

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