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

Amy Finkelstein, Robin McKnight

NBER Working Paper No. 11609
Issued in September 2005
NBER Program(s):Economics of Aging, Health Care, Public Economics

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’s exposure to out of pocket medical expenditure risk. Specifically, we estimate that Medicare’s 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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w11609

Published: 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.

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