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Who receives medicaid in old age? Rules and reality

Margherita Borella, Mariacristina De Nardi and Eric French
IFS Working Paper W17/04

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. We ask 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. We find 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. We also find 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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Journal article | American Economic Review
The old age provisions of the Medicaid program were designed to insure retirees against medical expenses. We estimate a structural model of savings and medical spending and use it to compute the distribution of lifetime Medicaid transfers and Medicaid valuations across currently single retirees.