Research and Analysis by James Sears
Benefit Adequacy Among Elderly Social Security Retired-Worker Beneficiaries and the SSI Federal Benefit Rate
The federal benefit rate (FBR) of the Supplemental Security Income program provides an inflation-indexed income guarantee for aged and disabled people with low assets. Some consider the FBR as an attractive measure of Social Security benefit adequacy. Others propose the FBR as an administratively simple, well-targeted minimum Social Security benefit. However, these claims have not been empirically tested. Using microdata from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, this article finds that the FBR is an imprecise measure of benefit adequacy; it incorrectly identifies as economically vulnerable many who are not poor, and disregards some who are poor. The reason for this is that the FBR-level benefit threshold of adequacy considers the Social Security benefit in isolation and ignores the family consumption unit. The FBR would provide an administratively simple but poorly targeted foundation for a minimum Social Security benefit. The empirical estimates quantify the substantial tradeoffs between administrative simplicity and target effectiveness.
This note focuses on participation in two entitlement programs that help reduce out-of-pocket expenses for low-income Medicare beneficiaries: the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) program and the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) program. As of 1999, about 2.75 million eligible, noninstitutionalized individuals were not enrolled in these Medicare savings programs. The eligible nonparticipants differed substantially from the QMB and SLMB participants in that they were less likely to be Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries and more likely to be elderly, nonblack, and in relatively good health. These findings, which could help target future outreach efforts, are based on Survey of Income and Program Participation data matched with administrative records from the Social Security Administration.
Eligibility for the Medicare Buy-in Programs, Based on a Survey of Income and Program Participation Simulation
Fewer people appear eligible for Medicare buy-in programs than most earlier research indicated, implying that participation rates may be higher than previously believed. The authors estimate a 63 percent rate of participation among those eligible for the combined Qualified Medicare Beneficiary and Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary programs in 1999. The estimates are based on Survey of Income and Program Participation data matched to the Social Security Administration's administrative records. The matched data provide information of better quality than the data used in previous studies.
In response to a Congressional mandate, SSA tested six different techniques to increase enrollment in programs that pay some Medicare expenses, such as premiums, for low-income individuals. This article describes these outreach projects, provides estimates of the eligible population, and discusses what could be expected for future efforts based on the results of the project.
This article presents the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Financial Eligibility Model developed in the Division of Policy Evaluation of the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics. Focusing on the elderly, the article simulates five potential changes to the SSI eligibility criteria and presents the effects of those simulations on SSI participation, federal benefits, and poverty among the elderly. Finally, the article discusses future directions for research and potential improvements to the model.
Simplifying the Supplemental Security Income Program: Options for Eliminating the Counting of In-kind Support and Maintenance
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program's policies for both living arrangements and in-kind support and maintenance (ISM) are intended to direct program benefits toward persons with the least income and support, but they are considered cumbersome to administer and, in some cases, poorly targeted. Benefit restructuring would simplify the SSI program by replacing ISM-related benefit reductions with benefit reductions for recipients living with another adult. This article presents a microsimulation analysis of two benefit restructuring options, showing that the distributional outcomes under both options are inconsistent with a basic rationale of the SSI program.