Medicare and Longevity in International Perspective

William H. Dow, University of California, Berkeley
Allan Parnell, Cedar Grove Institute

When Medicare began in 1966, health insurance for those aged 65 and older became virtually universal. This paper examines whether Medicare reduced mortality rates of the eligible population. To do this, we estimate the differences in the annual mortality rates for men and women from 1959 through 1980 at ages 65 and older relative to the annual mortality rates for men and women aged 50-64 before and after 1966. We then contrast changing U.S. mortality patterns with those in a set of 12 comparison countries. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that Medicare substantially lowered U.S. elderly mortality rates. Our results, however, differ considerably depending on the exact set of comparison countries. This suggests caution when making comparisons with any single country, and points to the need for more detailed mortality analyzes within each country before drawing more definitive conclusions from comparative analyzes.

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Presented in Poster Session 1: Aging, Life Course, Health, Mortality, and Health Care