Social Security at 62 but Fairly Healthy

Posted Tuesday, June 24th, 2014  | Comments (1) rule
The following is reprinted with permission from Squared Away Blog.
Kimberly Blanton
Boston College Center for Retirement Research


Are people who claim their Social Security retirement benefits when they’re 62 too sick or impaired to work?

Fast forward three years, to when these early claimers turn 65. They’re about as healthy as those who decided to wait until age 65 to start receiving their Social Security retirement benefits, according to preliminary findings from a study using Medicare spending data as a proxy for health. The early claimers are also far healthier than people who left the labor force early to go on federal disability.

Some 8,500 older Americans were in the study’s sample, and they fell into four different groups: those who claimed a reduced Social Security pension soon after turning 62; those who claimed a larger pension at 65; those who were awarded a Social Security disability benefit before turning 62; and those who applied for disability but were denied and then claimed their retirement benefit after age 62.

The researchers, from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, examined Medicare claims from 1991 through 2008 for the four groups during the year following their 65th birthdays. They found no evidence of persistent health problems that would have kept the 62-year-olds from continuing to work for a few more years.

Controlling for race, sex, education and other factors that have a bearing on health, the $287 annual difference in Medicare claims between people who started receiving retirement benefits at 62 and at 65 was not significant. Similarly, the healthcare spending of people who received disability benefits and those who were rejected was virtually the same.

But there was a large gap between the group who claimed a retirement benefit at 62 and the group on disability: Medicare claims for disability recipients were $4,400 more annually than the claims for early pensioners.

It’s important to note that this analysis doesn’t capture any differences in healthcare spending that may’ve occurred prior to age 65. That’s the age of Medicare eligibility for everyone in the sample except those who qualified for Medicare sometime prior to turning 62, because they were receiving Social Security disability benefits.

When the researchers repeated the analysis using Medicare claims at age 70, however, the story was the same: poor health seems to play a fairly small role in the decision about when to claim Social Security retirement benefits.


Full disclosure: The research cited in this post was funded by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) through the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the blog’s author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government.

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Three Steps to Survive a Healthpocalypse

Posted Wednesday, June 11th, 2014  | Comments (2) rule
How to take cover when the sky is falling
Scott's photo Kenneth Scott, MPH
Outreach Director
Colorado School of Public Health
Research Fellow
Sloan Center on Aging & Work
James' photo Brian D. Williams, MD
Colorado School of Public Health

Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed? The popular news media is full of apocalyptic scenarios that have the two of us feeling pretty exhausted. Everywhere we look the world seems to be teetering on the edge of a cliff—the economy, the environment, even honeybees. Our areas of expertise—medicine and public health—are no exception. For instance, workers managing one or more chronic diseases will be more and more common as the workforce ages and as a younger, less healthy generation joins the workforce. But instead of adding to the general anxiety by recounting doomsday statistics about the rising costs of medical care or the high rates of obesity and diabetes, we have suggestions that may bring some relief. Here are some practical things that employers can do to promote the health and wellness of their aging workers. These three steps will help keep your organization’s sky from falling.

Step 1: Promote preventive screening tests that have been proven to be a good idea.

The Affordable Care Act of 2009 requires that all private insurance policies pay for (at no additional cost to the patient) a list of recommended services, including certain screening tests and vaccines. Employers can promote the use of these services by simple and inexpensive means such as posters, electronic communication, and worksite wellness meetings. Employers can help older workers (and younger workers) know how their preventive service schedules change as everyone ages at work. When you can, offer and promote tests on site.

Step 2: Commit to chronic disease management programs, either by developing them within the company or hiring a third party to run them.

The quickest way to realize cost savings from worksite wellness activities is by helping employees with existing chronic diseases to keep their conditions in check through disease management programs. A study by the RAND Corporation found that Pepsico experienced a return on investment of $3.80 from its disease management programs, compared to a $0.50 return on its lifestyle management programs that focused on physical activity and diet among all employees, regardless of health status. The majority of the cost savings from Pepsico’s disease management programs came from a 30-percent reduction in hospital admissions. Notably, RAND clearly stated that organizational commitment is important for a program’s success. Simply having a program on the books is not enough to realize financial benefits. Employers and employees need to be engaged in order to maximize program effectiveness and minimize the potential for discrimination. The most common chronic conditions among workers 55 and over are arthritis, hypertension (that is, high blood pressure), heart disease, and diabetes.

Step 3: Introduce universal design solutions that work for everyone.

The total cost attributable to arthritis in the United States was estimated to be $128 billion as of 2003 (the most recent year for which figures are available). Nearly half of the workforce age 55 and over has some form of arthritis. We’ve written about universal design in general terms before, but there is no better example of universal design for arthritis than the OXO Good Grips brand of kitchen tools. Sam Farber invented the first OXO tool when he noticed that his wife (who had mild osteoarthritis) was having difficulty peeling apples for a tart. His designs proved to be immensely popular among people with and without arthritis. This is the essence of universal design–maximizing the number of people who use a product, place, or service with a design that works well for as many people as possible. A company that doesn’t have a human factors engineer or ergonomist on staff can hire one as a consultant to identify workplace barriers and solutions. In the meantime, a company can start with simple steps, like replacing door knobs with door handles. In addition to the physical environment, organizational policies can be universally designed. Workplace flexibility works for older workers with elderly parents, as well as employees who have young children.

While these three steps may not prevent a healthpocalypse, they may ensure that you and your employees are among the last ones standing.

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