The Effect of Lower Transaction Costs on Social Security Disability Insurance Application Rates and Participation

Published in: Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Volume 38, Issue 1 (Winter 2019), pages 99-123. doi:10.1002/pam.22095

by Andrew Foote, Michel Grosz, Stephanie Rennane

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Transaction costs pose significant barriers to participation in public programs. We analyze how Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) application behavior was affected by iClaim, a 2009 innovation that streamlined the online application process. We use a difference-in-differences design to compare application rates before and after 2009 across counties with varying degrees of access to high-speed internet. We estimate that counties with internet connectivity one standard-deviation above the mean experienced a 1.6 percent increase in SSDI applications, and a 2.8 percent increase in appeals after the reform. We estimate that the increase in applications due to iClaim can explain 15 percent of the overall increase in applications between 2008 and 2011. Higher exposure to the online application led to a slightly larger increase in SSDI awards, meaning there was a small but significant increase in the overall award rate. Application rates increased the most in rural areas, while appeals and awards had more significant increases in urban areas. These results suggest that the online application reduced transaction costs to applicants, and the lower costs improved the overall targeting efficiency of the application process.

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