McInerney and Mellor Examine Recessions and Seniors’ Health

A new study forthcoming in the Journal of Health Economics by William & Mary economists and Schroeder Center faculty affiliates, Melissa McInerney and Jennifer Mellor, provides a comprehensive look at the effects of recessions on seniors’ health. Their paper, “Recessions and Seniors’ Health, Health Behaviors, and Healthcare Use: Analysis of the Medicare Current Beneficiary Study,” adds to the recessions and health literature by using data from a more recent time period that includes the beginning of the Great Recession and by focusing exclusively on the senior population.

McInerney and Mellor find that in contrast to prior research and in recent years that include that start of Great Recession, senior mortality rates actually increase as unemployment rises.  Their results suggest that there is a robust positive relationship between unemployment and mortality that runs counter to prior published estimates. They also find evidence that higher unemployment rates increase inpatient care utilization among the senior population. 

Possible supply-side responses could explain the increased utilization of healthcare among the senior population during recessions. McInerney and Mellor find that physicians are more likely to report that their practice accepts new Medicare patients when the unemployment rate increases.

Including this study, The Journal of Health Economics will publish two papers from Schroeder Center faculty affiliates in their September 2012 issue. For more information on this study read a detailed research brief.