Who receives medicaid in old age: rules and reality

Document type
Working Paper
Borella, Margherita; De Nardi, Mariacristina; French, Eric
Institute for Fiscal Studies
Date of publication
12 April 2017
IFS Working Paper; W17/04
Health Services, Poverty Alleviation Welfare Benefits and Financial Inclusion
Social welfare
Material type

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Medicaid is a government program that also provides health insurance to the old who have little assets and either low income or catastrophic health care expenses. This paper asks how the Medicaid rules map into the reality of Medicaid recipiency and what other observable characteristics are important to determine who ends up on Medicaid. The data show that both singles and couples with high retirement income can end up on Medicaid at very advanced ages.

This paper finds that, conditioning on a large number of observable characteristics, including those that directly relate to Medicaid eligibility criteria, single women are more likely to end up on Medicaid. So are non-whites, but, surprisingly, their higher recipiency is concentrated in the higher income percentiles. This paper also finds that low-income people with a high school diploma or higher are much less likely to end up on Medicaid than their less educated counterparts. All of these effects are large and depend on retirement income in a very non-linear way.

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