Abstracts of Selected Recent NBER Working Papers
Long-term care expenditures constitute one of the largest uninsured financial risks facing the elderly in the United States. This paper provides an overview of the economic and policy issues surrounding insuring long-term care expenditure risk. Through this lens we also discuss the likely impact of recent long-term care public policy initiatives at both the state and federal level.
Supply-side Social Security reforms to increase employment and delay benefit claiming among older individuals may be frustrated by age discrimination. We test for policy complementarities between supply-side Social Security reforms and demand-side efforts to deter age dis-crimination, specifically studying whether stronger state-level age discrimination protections enhanced the impact of the increases in the Social Security Full Retirement Age (FRA) that occurred in the past decade. The evidence indicates that, for older individuals who were "caught" by the increase in the FRA, benefit claiming reductions and employment increases were sharper in states with stronger age discrimination protections.
We analyze the effects of a school-based incentive program on childrens exercise habits. The program offers children an opportunity to win prizes if they walk or bike to school during prize periods. We use daily child-level data and individual fixed effects models to measure the impact of the prizes by comparing behavior during prize periods with behavior during non-prize periods. Variation in the timing of prize periods across different schools allows us to estimate models with calendar-date fixed effects to control for day-specific attributes, such as weather and proximity to holidays. On average, we find that being in a prize period increases riding behavior by sixteen percent, a large impact given that the prize value is just six cents per participating student. We also find that winning a prize lottery has a positive impact on ridership over subsequent weeks; consider heterogeneity across prize type, gender, age, and calendar month; and explore differential effects on the intensive versus extensive margins.
Economists seeking to improve the efficiency of health care delivery frequently emphasize two issues: the fragmented structure of physician practices and poorly designed physician incentives. This paper analyzes these issues from the perspective of organizational economics. We begin with a brief overview of the structure of physician practices and observe that the long anticipated triumph of integrated care delivery has largely gone unrealized. We then analyze the special problems that fragmentation poses for the design of physician incentives. Organizational economics suggests some promising incentive strategies for this setting, but implementing these strategies is complicated by norms of autonomy in the medical profession and by other factors that inhibit effective integration between hospitals and physicians. Compounding these problems are patterns of medical specialization that complicate coordination among physicians. We conclude by considering the policy implications of our analysis - paying particular attention to proposed Accountable Care Organizations
In this paper, we present data on trends over time in domestic saving rates in twelve economies in developing Asia during the 1966-2007 period and analyze the determinants of these trends. We find that domestic saving rates in developing Asia have, in general, been high and rising but that there have been substantial differences from economy to economy and that the main determinants of these trends appear to have been the age structure of the population (especially the aged dependency ratio), income levels, and the level of financial sector development. We then project future trends in domestic saving rates in developing Asia for the 2011-2030 period based on our estimation results and find that the domestic saving rate in developing Asia as a whole will remain roughly constant during the next two decades despite rapid population aging in some economies in developing Asia because population aging will occur much later in other economies and because the negative impact of population aging on the domestic saving rate will be largely offset by the positive impact of higher income levels.
This paper investigates the impact of the macroeconomy on the health insurance coverage of Americans. We examine panel data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) for 2004-2010, a period that includes the Great Recession of 2007-09. We find that a one percentage point increase in the state unemployment rate is associated with a 1.67 percentage point (2.12%) reduction in the probability that men have health insurance; this effect is strongest among college-educated, white, and older (50-64 year old) men. For women and children, the unemployment rate was not significantly correlated with the probability of health insurance coverage through any source. When one examines the source of coverage, it becomes apparent that a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate is associated with a 1.37 percentage point (4.69%) higher probability that a child is covered by public health insurance. Based on the point estimates in this paper, we estimate that 9.3 million adult Americans, the vast majority of whom were men, lost health insurance due to a higher unemployment rate alone during the 2007-09 recession. This is roughly nine times more than lost health insurance during the previous (2001) recession. We conclude with a discussion of how components of recent health care reform may influence these relationships in the future.
This paper characterizes heterogeneity of the beliefs of American households about future stock market returns, provides an explanation for that heterogeneity and establishes its relationship to stock holding behavior. We find substantial belief heterogeneity that is puzzling since households can observe the same publicly available information about the stock market. We propose a simple learning model where agents can invest in the acquisition of financial knowledge. Differential incentives to learn about the returns process can explain heterogeneity in beliefs. We check this explanation by using data on beliefs elicited as subjective probabilities and a rich set of other variables from the Health and Retirement Study. Both descriptive statistics and estimated relevant heterogeneity of the structural parameters provide support for our explanation. People with higher lifetime earnings, higher education, higher cognitive abilities, defined contribution as opposed to defined benefit pension plans, for example, possess beliefs that are considerably closer to what historical time series would imply. Our results also suggest that a substantial part of the reduced form relationship between stock holding and household characteristics is due to differences in beliefs. Our methodological contribution is estimating relevant heterogeneity of structural belief parameters from noisy survey answers to probability questions.
We use novel data to study the decision to undergo genetic testing by individuals at risk for Huntington disease (HD), a hereditary neurological disorder that reduces healthy life expectancy to about age 50. Although genetic testing is perfectly predictive and carries little financial or time cost, less than 10 percent of at-risk individuals are tested prior to the onset of symptoms. Testing rates are higher for individuals with higher ex ante risk of carrying the genetic expansion for HD. Untested individuals express optimistic beliefs about their probability of having HD and make fertility, savings, labor supply, and other decisions as if they do not have HD, even though individuals with confirmed HD behave quite differently. We show that these facts are qualitatively consistent with a model of optimal expectations (Brunnermeier and Parker, 2005) and can be reconciled quantitatively in this model with reasonable parameter values. This model nests the neoclassical framework and, we argue, provides strong evidence rejecting the assumptions of that framework. Finally, we briefly develop policy implications.
Over the last several decades, both delay of childbearing and fertility problems have become increasingly common among women in de-veloped countries. At the same time, technological changes have made many more options available to individuals experiencing fertility problems. However, these technologies are expensive, and only 25% of health insurance plans in the United States cover infertility treatment. As a result of these high costs, legislation has been passed in 15 states that mandates insurance coverage of infertility treatment in private insurance plans. In this paper, we examine whether mandated insurance coverage for infertility treatment affects utilization. We allow utilization effects to differ by age and education, since previous research suggests that older, more educated women should be more likely to be directly affected by the mandates than younger women and less educated women, both because they are at higher risk of fertility problems and because they are more likely to have private health insurance which is subject to the mandate. We find robust evidence that the mandates do have a significant effect on utilization for older, more educated women that is larger than the effects found for other groups. These effects are largest for the use of ovulation-inducing drugs and artificial insemination.
We describe the Medicaid eligibility rules for the elderly. Medicaid is administered jointly by the Federal and state governments, and each state has significant flexibility on the details of the implementation. We document the features common to all states, but we also highlight the most salient state-level differences.
There are two main pathways to Medicaid eligibility for people over age 65: either having low assets and income, or being impoverished due to large medical expenses. The first group of recipients (the categorically needy) mostly includes life-long poor individuals, while the second group (the medically needy) includes people who might have earned substantial amounts of money during their lifetime but have become impoverished by large medical expenses. The categorically needy program thus only affects the savings decision of people who have been poor throughout most of their lives. In contrast, the medically needy program provides some insurance even to people who have higher income and assets. Thus, this second pathway is to some extent going to affect the savings of the relatively higher income and assets people.
Two ailments limit the effectiveness and threaten the long-term viability of the U.S. Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI). First, the program is ineffective in assisting the vast majority of workers with less severe disabilities to reach their employment potential or earn their own way. Second, the program's expenditures on cash transfers and medical benefits - exceeding $1,500 per U.S. household - are extremely high and growing unsustainably. There is no compelling evidence, however, that the incidence of disabling conditions among the U.S. working age population is rising. This paper discusses the challenges facing the SSDI program, explains how its design has led to rapid and unsustainable growth, considers why past efforts to slow program growth have met with minimal and fleeting success, and outlines three recent proposals that would modify the program to slow growth while potentially improving the employment prospects of workers with disabilities. Because these proposals depart substantially from a program design that has seen little change in half a century, their efficacy is unproven. Additionally, even well-meaning efforts to place the SSDI program on a sustainable trajectory run the risk of creating additional hurdles for claimants who are truly unable to work. Nevertheless, the imminent exhaustion of the SSDI Trust Fund provides an impetus and an opportunity to explore innovative solutions to the longstanding policy challenges posed by the SSDI program.