Does Medicare Benefit the Poor?

Published in: Journal of public economics, v. 90, no. 1-2, 2006, p. 277-292

Posted on on December 31, 2005

by Jay Bhattacharya

Read More

Access further information on this document at Journal of public economics

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Measuring the progressivity of age-targeted government programs is difficult because no single data set measures income and benefit use throughout life. Previous research, using zip code as a proxy for lifetime income, has found that Medicare benefits flow primarily to the most economically advantaged groups, and that the financial returns to Medicare are often higher for the rich than the poor. However, our analysis produces the starkly opposed result that Medicare is an extraordinarily progressive public program, in dollar terms or welfare terms. These new results owe themselves to our measurement of socioeconomic status as an individual's education, rather than the geographically aggregated measures of income used by previous research. The authors argue that individual education has important practical and conceptual advantages over geographically aggregated measures of income. Our results suggest the crucial importance of accurate poverty measurement in evaluating the progressivity of complex government programs like Medicare or Social Security.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.