(UM06-15) - The Role of Spousal Health Insurance Provision in Retirement Decisions
Health insurance coverage in the years prior to retirement is particularly important because it protects the household from the financial risks of uninsurance as well as the health consequences of delaying care while uninsured. While results from the retirement “job lock” literature show that those who would lack coverage after retirement continue to work to maintain benefits, little work has explored the types of health insurance choices made by couples after retirement. It may be difficult for a married man to coordinate continuous coverage for a younger wife whose primary source of coverage has been from the husband, and thus households may pay more for non-group coverage or be exposed to the risks of uninsurance. This paper studies a panel of married couples from the 1992-2004 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to study the types of health insurance decisions households make around the time of retirement. Results indicate that households seem to do well at avoiding uninsurance at the time of retirement, but may make high cost choices in order to insure the wife. Men switch into Medicare or coverage from their wife at retirement if they lose their own coverage, but a large fraction of women take-up privately purchased coverage. In fact, the transition from husband’s coverage to privately purchased coverage is twice as large in periods when the husband retires than otherwise. Transitions to uninsurance are lower in periods of retirement than at other times, suggesting that men continue to work if either spouse would lose coverage. Though less risky, insurance purchased in the non-group market is expensive relative to employer-sponsored coverage. Thus, married households may need to increase savings to pay for health insurance that bridges the gap until the wife can claim Medicare at age 65.