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NIH Grant to Fund Study of Medicare’s Effect on Americans’ Longevity

Research Aims for Evidence to Expand Health Insurance, Boost Population Health, Reduce Disparities

By Kelly Blake

couple looks at laptop

A UMD-led research team's study will help answer questions about the health benefits of Medicare, laying the groundwork for policymakers to improve the program.

Photo by iStock

The United States spends more than $800 billion annually on Medicare health benefits for adults 65 and older, yet little is known about whether the program first established in 1966 actually helps Americans live longer lives.

A new National Institutes of Health grant totaling $454,000 will support a study led by Dahai Yue, assistant professor of health policy and management in the School of Public Health that will fill in knowledge gaps about the federal health insurance that provides coverage for about 20% of the population.

“We hypothesize that having access to Medicare coverage has long-term impact on longevity, especially for individuals with lower socioeconomic status,” said Yue. “Yet we still don’t have all the data needed to understand the impact it has. Each election cycle, politicians always debate whether to expand Medicare, but without the scientific evidence to really know its value. We hope to change that.”

The research team, which includes economists Joseph Price of Brigham Young University, Adriana Lleras-Muney of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Andrew Goodman-Bacon of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, aims to improve estimates of Medicare’s impact on annual mortality and provide the first evidence of its lifetime impact on longevity. They will conduct the study using the largest U.S. dataset yet constructed that contains information on both individual longevity and individual socioeconomic characteristics. The team created this dataset, which links the complete data from the 1940 U.S. Census with genealogical records and includes more than 18 million individuals. They will examine differences in health between racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups to determine how much Medicare may reduce lifespan disparities over decades.

Yue says that the study team’s long-term goal is to provide rigorous evidence for policymakers to craft health insurance expansion policies, improve population health and reduce health disparities.

“Our project goes beyond the current paradigm by examining Medicare’s lifetime effect on longevity and providing evidence on which populations are more likely to benefit from Medicare coverage,” Yue said. “This could improve health and extend lives in the future.”



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School of Public Health

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