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Melvin Stephens, Estimating Program Benefits

Widow(er) poverty and out-of-pocket medical expenditures at the end of life

Publication Abstract

McGarry, Kathleen, and Robert F. Schoeni. 2005. "Widow(er) poverty and out-of-pocket medical expenditures at the end of life." Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 60(3): S160-S168.

Objectives. Elderly widows are three times as likely to live in poverty as older married people. This study investigates the gap in poverty, income, and wealth between these groups. Focus is placed on the role played by out-of-pocket medical expenditures spent on dying spouses. Methods. A national panel survey of people age 70 and older in 1993 was used. Income. poverty, wealth, and out-of-pocket expenditures were examined before and after widowhood, with comparisons made with couples not experiencing a death.

Results. Forty-four percent of the difference in economic status between widow(er)s and married elderly persons was due to disparities in economic status that existed prior to widowhood. The remaining 56% was due to factors more directly related to the death of a spouse, including the loss of income and expenses associated with dying. On average, out-of-pocket medical expenditures in the final 2 years of life were equal to 30% of the couple's annual income. For couples in the bottom quarter of the income distribution, these expenditures were 70% of their income.

Discussion. As policy makers continue to debate expansions and reforms of Medicare, the potential effects of these reforms on economic well-being, particularly among widows, should be considered.

Country of focus: United States of America.

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