The Effects of Health Insurance and Self-Insurance on Retirement Behavior


  • Eric French,

    1. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 230 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, IL 60604, U.S.A.;
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  • John Bailey Jones

    1. Dept. of Economics, University at Albany, SUNY, BA-110, Albany, NY 12222, U.S.A.;
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    • We thank Joe Altonji, Peter Arcidiacono, Gadi Barlevy, David Blau, John Bound, Chris Carroll, Mariacristina De Nardi, Tim Erikson, Hanming Fang, Donna Gilleskie, Lars Hansen, John Kennan, Spencer Krane, Hamp Lankford, Guy Laroque, John Rust, Dan Sullivan, Chris Taber, the editors and referees, students of Econ 751 at Wisconsin, and participants at numerous seminars for helpful comments. We received advice on the HRS pension data from Gary Englehardt and Tom Steinmeier, and excellent research assistance from Kate Anderson, Olesya Baker, Diwakar Choubey, Phil Doctor, Ken Housinger, Kirti Kamboj, Tina Lam, Kenley Peltzer, and Santadarshan Sadhu. The research reported herein was supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRR) and the Michigan Retirement Research Center (MRRC) pursuant to grants from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions are solely those of the authors, and should not be construed as representing the opinions or policy of the SSA or any agency of the Federal Government, the CRR, the MRRC, or the Federal Reserve System.


This paper provides an empirical analysis of the effects of employer-provided health insurance, Medicare, and Social Security on retirement behavior. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we estimate a dynamic programming model of retirement that accounts for both saving and uncertain medical expenses. Our results suggest that Medicare is important for understanding retirement behavior, and that uncertainty and saving are both important for understanding the labor supply responses to Medicare. Half the value placed by a typical worker on his employer-provided health insurance is the value of reduced medical expense risk. Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 leads individuals to work an additional 0.074 years over ages 60–69. In comparison, eliminating 2 years worth of Social Security benefits increases years of work by 0.076 years.